Carlton supported Brett Ratten but did not believe in him.
Brett Ratten at the media conference announcing his sacking. Photo: Digitally altered image
CARLTON never treated Brett Ratten as a long-term coach. Ratten was on probation for his entire five years and six games as senior coach. While the Blues would let him drive the car - not quite the Rolls Royce of yesteryear but a luxury vehicle nonetheless - he would never graduate beyond P-plates in the club's mind.
The Blues supported him with resources, gradually bulking up what had been a threadbare football department under Denis Pagan. They gave him the assistants he wanted, such as the experienced Alan Richardson and Mark Riley. They sided with Ratten in his conflict with football operations manager Steven Icke, installing Andrew McKay; they revamped the recruiting department along the lines he sought, elevating Shane Rogers to the head job. They gave him all that he wanted, except the one thing he wanted most. Their faith.
They supported, but never believed in Ratten. This is the critical point. It is easy to say that Ratten would have remained had Mick Malthouse not been available. Malthouse is the cart, not the horse; Malthouse might have been available to Richmond, too, but the Tigers actually hold the view that Damien Hardwick can deliver a premiership, so they re-signed Hardwick for a longer term - putting the Malthouse question to bed before it could arise.
Ratten's term as senior coach consisted of three two-year contracts. The club board did not consider him worthy of a three-year term at any stage, which meant he coached in a permanent state of (job) insecurity. For Carlton, ''honouring'' a contract means paying someone out in full. Malthouse, should he take the job, will begin with the standard three years Ratten never received.
Carlton harboured doubts all along about whether Ratten could deliver a flag. Whenever he met expectations, by making the finals in 2009 and 2010, by winning a final last year, the bar was raised further. Much has been made of Ratten's intemperate prediction that the Blues would make the top four this season. In reality, it was the board's great expectations - not his own - that placed the blowtorch under his backside. The Carlton hierarchy privately cited Carlton's failure to beat the premiership contenders this year and last as factors in the sacking. It was mindful that Carlton has not beaten a top-four side this season - it beat only the fifth-placed Pies (twice) - and has a 0-10 record against the top four since 2011.
Of course, that Malthouse - and potentially Paul Roos - hovered over the club like Big Brother certainly didn't help Ratten, who otherwise probably would have coached out his contract. President Stephen Kernahan said yesterday that it was ''line ball'' whether his former teammate would have coached in 2013 if not for the Malthouse factor.
But even if he'd stayed, the club wasn't about to bestow Ratten with a full driver's licence. The coach would have endured another year walking the tightrope, a sixth year on probation.
Why did the club lack faith in its man? In part, this was due to Ratten's nature, yet it is also about Carlton's DNA and particular needs at this crossroads moment. Carlton wants a flag yesterday. To the question of whether the Blues lacked patience, Kernahan dryly observed that they had been impatient for 148 years. Ratten, in the hierarchy's mind, did not lack for football nous or coaching acumen. It was man-management the club felt tested him. Internally, he was seen to have a weakness for micro-managing, having had some issues with conditioning chief Justin Cordy. It is not surprising then that the Blues would look to Malthouse (or Roos), whose abiding strength has been his man-management.
That said, Ratten's public demeanour and composure were outstanding throughout a diabolical season. His handling of his own execution was remarkable for the sheer absence of bitterness, discomfort or negativity. When he addressed the players after his axing, he implored them to make the most of their opportunities and not to feel sorry for him, pointing to the tragic death of a young staffer at Carlton, and of the cancer that their teammate Sam Rowe had endured. ''Make the most of it,'' he said.
Ratten (pictured at training yesterday) accepted what Kernahan admitted was a harsh call. He even gave his club credit for its ruthlessness. Ratten has enormous goodwill from the media, earned by his grace and good manners.
Finally, Carlton's famous impatience was intensified by the club's belief that it was capable of winning a premiership within the next few years.
Kernahan spoke about the need to strike while Judd was still hot. Malthouse upped the ante by suggesting that he might no longer be a feasible coach in 2014.
Doubts about Ratten dovetailed with the opportunity to land an experienced driver. Whether you're a hired gun or a favourite son matters not. Carlton did what Carlton does.