Mark Neeld was one of two coaches who quit suddenly last season. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
AFL boss Andrew Demetriou has thrown his support behind a move to regulate the annual coaching merry-go-round and prevent a repeat of last September's scenario in which Geelong and Collingwood lost crucial assistants on the eve of the grand final.
Club chief executives Brian Cook and Gary Pert have led the charge to empower clubs to restrict the departure of contracted coaches, after officially protesting at a meeting of club chiefs last December.
While some resistance is expected from the AFL Coaches Association, club heavy-hitters Pert and Cook have won some support from clubs and the AFL after bitter recriminations followed their coaching departures.
The two protested at the most recent club talks over cavalier treatment of clubs by some contracted coaches. It has emerged that not everyone at Collingwood supported Mark Neeld's instant exodus after he won the senior Melbourne job, missing the preliminary final and grand final.
Neeld was sitting at the Demons' best and fairest as the Magpies narrowly scraped home against Hawthorn, while Brenton Sanderson - having insisted he needed to leave immediately upon signing with Adelaide - stood at the fence on grand final day and congratulated former colleagues when the Cats won the flag.
''We've need to put some more integrity around contracts,'' said Demetriou last night. ''The issue of coaches in the grand final accepting new roles came up at the last CEOs' meeting and what was agreed is that we would put a working group together and look at it at our next meeting.
''Gary Pert is drafting a discussion paper and I think the clubs have a right to review it.''
The Age believes Collingwood felt its lead-up to the grand final was hindered by midfield coach Neeld's departure and while Mick Malthouse insisted he go immediately, other senior Magpies would have preferred he stay. New coach Nathan Buckley is believed to support regulating coaches.
Geelong tried to keep Sanderson in the coaching line-up for the grand final but the new Crows coach wanted to leave. Brad Scott's departure to North Melbourne during the Magpies' 2009 campaign was also a source of club angst.
''There's got to be a better way,'' said Cook, whose club lost not only its contracted senior coach, Mark Thompson, in 2010, but also his contracted assistant Brendan McCartney. ''One of the problems we've had as an industry is that contracts are sometimes worthless. In the public eye what's the value of a contract? Maybe a handshake is more realistic.''
The Geelong chief executive said he had no issue with losing assistant coaches to senior positions but that clubs should have the power to retain those assistants until the end of the season.
''We should perhaps look at putting something standard in coaching contracts,'' he said, ''requiring a coach serve four weeks' notice. But we certainly need to review how to improve this. And if the coach wants to leave before those four weeks are up, the club should be able to enforce the contract.''
Cook said Geelong believed the review should also address the issue of assistant coaches breaking contracts to take assistant positions elsewhere. ''The clubs should probably have a right to compete,'' he said. ''If a club wants one of our contracted assistants to take a similar role, the coach himself should be forced to 'fess up to his club and give us the right to match the offer or conditions.''