Ratten: I don't care who coaches Carlton
Brett Ratten gives a 'blunt' answer to a packed media confernece when the name Mick Malthouse is raised in connection with his sacking as Carlton coach.
IT'S 2001 and after 10 years as Carlton coach, David Parkin hands the reins to the low-profile Wayne Brittain. Brittain coaches the Blues to fifth spot. The next year they plummet to 16th, and president John Elliott can't get rid of Brittain quick enough because he wants to announce that the Blues have landed a big fish, dual premiership coach Denis Pagan. It's a coup that Elliott thinks will save his backside and keep the supporters happy.
After all, how could you go wrong with a premiership coach?
But it doesn't work. Pagan lasts almost five years and takes the Blues to 15th, 11th, 16th, 16th and 15th. Towards the end of Pagan's tenure, they sack him and Brett Ratten takes over. There are six games to go, but the Blues don't want to win, even if they could. The priority is to secure Matthew Kreuzer in the draft, which they do.
So Ratten, a rookie senior coach, has his first summer to prepare a very ordinary list that's full of skill, cultural and discipline problems. It's a list that has delivered to Carlton its first ever wooden spoons. These have been the darkest days in Carlton's long history.
Ratten is told to make them competitive. With the support of Chris Judd, he does that. The Blues go from four wins to 10 in 12 months. The next year they do even better, win 13 games and make the finals for the first time in seven seasons.
They lose to the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba by seven points, but good performances by youngsters in Kreuzer and Marc Murphy are encouraging.
Into his third season, Ratten coaches the Blues to the finals for a second time. They lose by a kick to Sydney. Now it's 2011 and further improvement comes with a season that nets 14½ wins. It includes an elimination final victory over Essendon, and a week later they fail by just three points against the Eagles in Perth. It's disappointing but very promising. Ratten has shown he can coach. The list is developing, there are still flaws, but they have been competitive in finals.
Come 2012 the hopes are high. A top-four finish is possible. The season starts well but falls away as key players get hurt. Their unavailability exposes the lack of depth at the club. A bad loss to Port Adelaide in round 10 embarrasses the Blues, and the coach starts to wear serious heat. It increases each week as the losses mount.
Ratten is under siege, but he doesn't play politics, lay blame or pit personalities against each other, as some coaches do. He continues to put his players first. President Stephen Kernahan faces the media to share some of the load through this tough period, while chief executive Greg Swann is conspicuous in his absence. I believe Ratten grows as a coach through this period because he shows he can cope in a crisis.
Andrew Carrazzo and Murphy return from major shoulder injuries, but missing are the three tall defenders Jeremy Laidler, Lachie Henderson and Michael Jamison. Ratten has a back line that can't kick over a jam tin. So he has to play Heath Scotland, Chris Yarran and Bryce Gibbs back there. Someone needs to stamp ''KICKING SKILLS'' on the foreheads of Carlton's recruiters because half the list is substandard by foot.
Ratten, with his team sitting 7-8, gets them back on track with four wins in five games, culminating in a 96-point thrashing of Essendon. It puts the team at 11-9. Out of adversity there's hope; finals are a possibility and it ensures it won't be a losing season.
The Blues head to the Gold Coast and are expected to win. They don't. After a shocking first quarter, the coach keeps his cool and actually coaches well. The Blues dominate the hitouts and clearances. They end up with 23 more inside-50s and eight more scoring shots. They have 75 more disposals. But their poor kicking skills kill them.
So there's embarrassment, panic and anger. Emotions run high. Someone has to pay. The media hunt begins.
Premiership coach Mick Malthouse is available. Mid-season, he said he wasn't going to dance on Ratten's grave. But now he is re-energised and ready to go. But it's now or never, he says, because in 12 months it will probably be too late, at 60, to pick up the threads of an ever-changing game. So, cunningly, Malthouse lobs the ball in Carlton's court.
Polls are run and opinions sought on all media outlets. Should or shouldn't Ratten be sacked and Malthouse be his replacement? Kernahan says a review will be held after Sunday's final game. Swann says nothing. But behind closed doors they decide to sack Ratten.
It was the easy thing for the Blues' board to do. To replace a low-profile coach with a big name. That way they cover their back as Elliott tried, unsuccessfully with Pagan. The tough decision would have been to stick with a coach who has borne the brunt of a hellish season and honour his contract.
So let's look at facts. Ratten's success rate at Carlton in his five full seasons is 53.5 per cent. Premiership and long-term coaches Alastair Clarkson and John Worsfold were both sitting on 50 per cent 18 months ago. It took Malthouse 11 years to deliver a flag to Collingwood. After a decade of ups and downs, his strike rate was 51.5 per cent. Collingwood thought about replacing him. It didn't. Two grand finals followed.
After seven seasons at Geelong, Mark Thompson's strike rate was less than 50 per cent. The Cats dropped to 10th on the ladder and thought about sacking him. They didn't. A united front of chief executive Brian Cook and president Frank Costa stood behind the coach and the rest is history.
It's a tough business for coaches. There's no coaching messiah. Kevin Sheedy's last 15 years as a senior coach netted one flag. For Malthouse it's been one flag in 17 years. Exactly a year ago in the final round of the season, Malthouse's Magpies got smashed by the Cats by 96 points. Two weeks later, when the Pies scraped home to beat the Hawks by three points, the Collingwood coach was shot emotionally. Come the grand final, Malthouse didn't have a good day in the box. The game swung Geelong's way in the third quarter when Tom Hawkins got on top of Ben Reid. A change was needed. Chris Tarrant was the Pies' best negating defender. His opponent, James Podsiadly, was gone with an injury before half-time. Tarrant needed to be put on the damaging Hawkins. The move was eventually made, but it was 30 minutes too late. The horse had bolted.
So I think it's buyer beware, Blues. Geelong and Collingwood were rewarded for their faith in trying times. Kernahan should have stood by his man. Let him coach out his contract and at the end of 2013, if needed, look at Malthouse, an available Paul Roos, and well-credentialled emerging assistants such as Scott Burns and Leon Cameron.