Darren Jolly trains for Melbourne in 2003. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
JUSTIN Madden once described football coaching as the only job in the world where one man, perhaps middle-aged and beyond his physical peak, can stand before a bunch of big, strong, aggressive young athletes, hurl all manner of insults at them, and get away with it.
The established culture of decades of Australian football has been such that, within the public imagination, full frontal fury is not only assumed but encouraged: at least it's encouraged if your team is six goals down at half-time and needs a rev.
The coach can question his players' intelligence; he can berate them for being lazy, accuse them of lacking respect for their employer, and decry their lack of preparedness to support their mates. The message can be delivered replete with whatever colourful adjectives the coach cares to employ to emphasise his point.
Ultimately, he can invoke that most hurtful criticism of men: he can question their physical courage. It's not unknown for individuals to be singled out for such frank assessment. What could be more cutting than an imputation of cowardice? If it works, the coach is a motivational genius who knows how to push just the right buttons.
Of course, it's not personal, or so the theory goes. It's simply about identifying deficiencies in the interests of achieving a better performance from the group; the same justification most of us employ when making criticism of others within our own professional and personal spheres.
Yet inevitably it is personal at some level because criticism of another involves a complaint over some aspect of that person's being.
That's why none of us likes hearing it directed our way. It's why the manner of delivering it can be so delicate; usually to be done with sensitivity, consideration, and constructive intent.
But not always when it comes to footy. If the fans are of a mind to believe a paint-stripping tirade is what's required behind closed doors at the long interval, it's a safe bet the coach is also feeling frustrated.
And shock treatment is an age-old option. Footy's culture has long permitted what in other quarters - these days certainly - would be regarded as bullying and abuse. The blowtorch to the belly of the players has, over the years, been seen to be what it takes.
In the past week, a player has struck back and it made waves.
Darren Jolly delivered an assessment of Neale Daniher, one of his past coaches, as frank as some of the aforementioned critiques that have until now been the exclusive domain of the coach. And this one was delivered publicly through the pages of The Age.
Clearly it hurt. While Daniher hasn't responded, his anguish was conveyed by others.
The chief executive of the AFL Coaches Association, Danny Frawley, spoke of the fact that Daniher has a wife and children to be considered. Chris Fagan, a former assistant to Daniher at Melbourne, contacted The Age in defence of Daniher.
So, did Jolly go too far? It's hard to sustain such an argument. While it's understandable a coach might be shocked that what he regarded as private interchange with a player could be given public airing, he can't assume the ongoing inviolability of such dealings. Perhaps Jolly's column provides a timely warning of this.
Certainly the relationship between a coach and his football team has a closeness and intensity that requires respect from both sides. But that respect can be forfeited by either party. When a coach loses respect for a player, the chances are the player's future opportunities will be limited.
And what if it's the other way around? A significant power imbalance exists between a coach and a young player still finding his way. If the player feels aggrieved at particular treatment he's received from the coach, the notion that the traffic of criticism should forever remain one way is hard to justify.
Clearly, Jolly wasn't well served by the old method of full and frank appraisal. And it's hard to avoid the view it was Daniher and Melbourne who were the losers. Jolly has carved out an admirable and rewarding career. He has two premierships to show for it. There can now be no question as to whether he was made of sufficiently sturdy stuff. The interests of the Melbourne Football Club would likely have been better served had he remained within its ranks.
Football teams bring together all types. For his part, Neale Daniher has been one of the code's truly admirable figures. Had it not been for a saga of knee injuries, he may have been a giant of the game. Even at the end he was still trying to make it into Essendon's team for the 1990 finals but missed the cut. He is one of footy's most cruelly denied players.
Maybe it was the stoicism and school-of-hard-knocks mentality forged as one of 11 kids in country Australia that equipped him to deal with the serial disappointment and loss that came his way. And perhaps that's part of what made him a coach Darren Jolly didn't appreciate.