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How much pressure is each AFL coach under going into the 2022 season?


The upcoming AFL season feels like a big one for the coaching landscape.

Coming off a year where Carlton, Collingwood and Hawthorn all made changes, it seems anything could be possible in 2022.

The spectre of veteran coaches like Alastair Clarkson, Ross Lyon, Don Pyke and Nathan Buckley loom over the existing 18 and the pressure will be high in some camps.

At others, of course, the pressure is minimal. We’ve gone through all 18 teams to determine why it is a big year for them specifically and given each coach a pressure rating out of 10.

Here’s what we came up with.

Adelaide club banner

Matthew Nicks

In his third season in charge at West Lakes, Nicks will be measured less by wins and losses and more by the accumulation of improvements that will eventually take the Crows back to the finals.

Over his first two seasons, the former Greater Western Sydney assistant has blooded 17 players, among them Riley Thilthorpe, Lachlan Sholl, Harry Schoenberg, Ned McHenry, Will Hamill and Shane McAdam.

Former Lion Ben Keays, thrown a lifeline by Adelaide ahead of the 2020 season, has evolved into a midfielder who can harvest the ball, change the angle of the game and hurt the opposition on the scoreboard.

Rory Laird and Paul Seedsman are two further examples of senior players who went to another level, while defender Chayce Jones and forward Ned McHenry had built up a head of steam by the season’s end.

So Nicks can teach, even if we’re still waiting for green shoots from many of the seeds he’s scattered early on.

He recognised how the Crows were being cut up on the spread before he arrived, and tweaked where his players stand at stoppages to help them guard space and get into position to receive. Now, we need to see inexperienced onballers in Luke Pedlar and Sam Berry grow in this system.

Similarly, there are questions over the composition of the forward line; Thilthorpe is the pillar, the Darcy Fogarty project is ongoing, Shane McAdam has a future as a small forward and the Crows expended a top ten pick on Josh Rachele, but there are several missing pieces.

The hierarchy and the supporters at Adelaide will be patient, and settle for growth in players and longer spans of competitive football, knowing Nicks needs access to more top-tier talent, but the Crows did win just four of their final 18 games in 2021.

If a similarly barren spell unfolds, the coach will cop some heat from the local press, particularly if crosstown rivals Port Adelaide are in premiership contention once more.

Pressure rating: 4/10

Nathan John

Brisbane club banner

Chris Fagan

Brisbane coach Chris Fagan has completely turned around the Lions since arriving as head coach in 2017, taking the side from wooden spooners to a top-four outfit in just a few years.

Despite this, the Lions have won just the single final from six attempts across the past three years, finishing in the top four each time but failing to make it to the big dance.

While his consistent home and away season success won’t see him in the gun, you’d imagine there would be plenty of pressure internally with the club’s list inside a premiership window.

Club powerbrokers will hope Fagan can get the side to strike while the iron’s hot and hopefully win it all.

A top four finish would again be the expectation, but the Lions would be hoping to put their finals demons to bed in 2022.

If this upcoming campaign plays out in a similar fashion to the last three, expect Fagan to come under considerably more pressure in 2023 as he comes out of contract.

But for now, he’ll be feeling pretty confident in the main seat at the Gabba.

Pressure rating: 6/10

Lachlan Geleit

Carlton club banner

Michael Voss

Michael Voss is coming into his first year as Carlton coach, but it’s never as simple as that at Princes Park.

The Blues expected to play finals in 2021, but were found wanting in multiple areas under David Teague and made the shift to Voss while still firmly stating their desire for immediate September action.

There will be no honeymoon year for the Brisbane legend and given his first stint as a head coach at the Lions ended sourly, pundits will be watching the Blues closely to see whether he has what it takes in the role.

Voss and his new coaching staff must have a few focuses. Fixing what was a leaky defensive structure, learning how to hold onto leads late in games, getting the most out of Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow as a combo and making AFL-level players out of top draftees who have not yet blossomed.

It’s dangerous saying this about a Carlton coach, but it’s hard to see a scenario where Voss loses his job this year, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be significant pressure on him and to a larger extent the club itself.

Pressure rating: 5/10

Nic Negrepontis

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Collingwood club banner

Craig McRae

While supporters and board members at Collingwood can’t expect new coach Craig McRae to rebuild the Magpies in one pre-season, he will still find himself feeling some heat as he finds himself in perhaps the most scrutinised role in football.

We all know the Magpies are one of the biggest clubs in the country, and in 2022 McRae will become just the third full-time coach this century, following Mick Malthouse and Nathan Buckley.

The Jordan De Goey saga, significant change at board level and overall instability at the club over the past 12 months means McRae isn’t walking into the easiest environment for a first-time senior coach, but he’ll know he has time on his side as he attempts to work his side back up the ladder.

No one is expecting instant results from McRae, but Collingwood people will be hoping for signs of improvement this campaign.

He has a three-year deal that ties him to the club until 2024, so at this stage he’ll feel pretty secure in his job.

Pressure rating: 3/10

Lachlan Geleit

Essendon club banner

Ben Rutten

There was genuine unknown around Ben Rutten and how Essendon would perform in his first year as standalone coach after John Worsfold stepped away at the end of 2020.

After a 2021 campaign which saw the Bombers surprisingly qualify for finals, there’s a certain degree of optimism around how the side could perform this season.

While the long wait continues to go on for a finals win, the pressure will continue to slowly build, but currently a fruitful 2021 campaign should see considerably less pressure on Rutten compared to this time last year.

Natural improvement with a young squad should hold them in good stead, with the likes of ready-made draft pick Ben Hobbs poised to come in and make an immediate impact.

There remain a considerable question marks around how their forward line will look and that’s where most of the pressure could come if the side isn’t winning.

Pressure rating: 4/10

Laurence Rosen

Fremantle club banner

Justin Longmuir

Fremantle is in an odd spot. Their expectations last season were to play finals, but in the second half of the season they were not able to win the big games required to earn the opportunity.

They come into 2022 in the middle of the pack and a game-plan in flux, going from a stout defensive team in Justin Longmuir’s first year to a more attacking side in 2021.

They’ve lost Adam Cerra, brought in Jordan Clark and the three top West Australian draftees. A fit and healthy Nathan Fyfe should go a long way in the middle.

What is a pass mark for Longmuir and the Dockers in 2022? Saying finals or bust feels harsh, though another year in the middle of the pack will up the heat considerably in 12 months.

Some injury luck and a resolution to the current West Australian border situation would go a long way given both have been headaches for Freo in the last two seasons.

Longmuir’s job feels relatively safe barring catastrophe, but that won’t be the case in 2023 if Fremantle doesn’t play finals this year.

Pressure rating: 5/10

Nic Negrepontis

Geelong club banner

Chris Scott

There are plenty of ways to assess the pressure Chris Scott is under heading into 2022. However, the opinion that matters is that of new Cats CEO Steve Hocking, who recently moved to extend Scott for a further two years.

Despite that, it’s still a huge year for the 45-year-old, both personally and from a team perspective. It’s been a conversation in the last several years, but you’d have to think the Cats’ cliff can’t be more than a couple of seasons away, unless they can develop some youth. His home and away record is the best we’ve ever seen, but a failure to win at least one more premiership will forever mar Scott’s record.

If the cliff does come this year, it remains to be seen whether he’ll want to coax the Cats through a new stage and rebuild the list.

There is little pressure on Scott from a club point of view, with those in charge confident he's the right man, but there’s certainly plenty from many club supporters who believe the All-Australian coach doesn’t have what it takes in September. A premiership is the only way to cement his status among the great coaches.

Pressure rating: 7/10

Seb Mottram

Gold Coast club banner

Stuart Dew

There is no AFL coach more under the pump than Stuart Dew this year. Dew has now had four years at the club, and yes, injuries haven’t helped, and yes, they’re a better team than when he arrived at the club, but at the end of the day the Suns’ ladder position hasn’t improved throughout the 42-year-old’s tenure.

Gold Coast has a trend of starting the season well before fading off for the past several years, former Sun Jordan Murdoch recently pointing to players burning out from a heavy off-season as the cause.

Therefore, the spotlight might not be on the club throughout the first six rounds, but if losses start to build up throughout the middle of the season, expect to read reports of Suns bosses and AFL executives reaching out to former Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson for 2023 onwards.

The entire AFL community knows this is Dew’s last year if he can’t have the Suns at least out of the bottom four, even if he wasn’t in the final year of his contract, and with that knowledge comes plenty of pressure.

Pressure rating: 9/10

Seb Mottram

GWS Giants club banner

Leon Cameron

The Giants overcame a lengthy injury list and a 0-3 start to make the finals in 2021, surging late in the season to reach the semi-finals.

Coach Leon Cameron deserves huge credit in guiding the club to an unlikely finals appearance giving how unsettled they were from a selection perspective – just four players played every game.

Cameron successfully blooded several youngsters throughout last year which added to their depth. If the Giants can keep a relatively clean bill of health, there’s no reason why they can’t challenge for a top four spot in 2022.

He has had the keys to the Ferrari for a long time now and the talent on the list from top to bottom is unquestionable. Would a stalled 2022 campaign lead to a push for change?

Entering his ninth season as senior coach, Cameron would be fully aware that this shapes as a potentially make-or-break year with his contract up at season’s end.

Pressure rating: 8/10

Alex Zaia

Hawthorn club banner

Sam Mitchell

Sam Mitchell may be the toughest coach to rank on this list. On one hand, he is a young first-year head coaching taking over a near bottom four team coming out of a successful era.

On the other hand, the club forced out the best coach of the 21st century for him after initially committing to a succession plan and things got messy – really messy.

There will inevitably be pressure on Mitchell to at least show his ability to coach at the top level, given the club made such a monumental shift.

That pressure will be from the outside looking in, but it is hard to imagine too much scrutiny on Mitchell internally. He will be given time to learn the craft and plant his flag.

Hawthorn has an incredibly talent group of young defenders coming through – how will Mitchell craft them? Can he get the balance right in the midfield after a few tough years? Does he look to the future inside 50 and push out the likes of Jack Gunston and Luke Breust?

Pressure rating: 3/10

Nic Negrepontis

Melbourne club banner

Simon Goodwin

It’s not often you say this about a coach at the Melbourne Football Club, but 2021 premiership coach Simon Goodwin is under very little pressure heading into 2022.

There's no doubt Goodwin was under immense pressure to perform heading into 2021 after poor results in the two years prior, however after leading the Dees to a 17-win season and their first premiership since 1957, Goodwin’s empowering leadership style saw him crowned 'coach of the year’ by his peers in 2021.

Being the reigning premiers brings expectation heading into the next year and with AFL set to return to Victoria and with crowds to return, the spotlight will be on the Dees and whether or not their form can continue.

But with the Demons squad looking as good as ever, Goodwin should be feeling quietly confident heading into 2022.

Pressure rating: 2/10

Hugh Fitzpatrick

North Melbourne club banner

David Noble

North Melbourne won the wooden spoon in 2021, but finished the year in a positive fashion, showing the nuts and bolts of a game-plan to go with the development of numerous young players.

Going into 2022, the ship feels steady under coach David Noble and it’s hard to imagine a great deal of pressure on his position unless something goes drastically wrong.

The additions of Hugh Greenwood and Callum Coleman-Jones were savvy in the off-season and will add to their midfield and key forward/ruck depth. They have quite a few young names to balance in those areas of the ground and Noble will be under some pressure to work out the best balance and rotation of them.

How does he balance a midfield group of Ben Cunnington, Jy Simpkin, Jaidyn Stephenson, Tarryn Thomas, Greenwood, Jason Horne-Francis, Tom Powell, Will Phillips and Charlie Lazzaro? All of whom will likely demand minutes across the season and need varying degrees of AFL experience added to their belts.

From an expectation standpoint, anything more than five wins would likely get a pass and a push further up the ladder could see them being one of the teams to watch the following year.

As long as Noble continues to get improvement from his core of players under the age of 24, he’s not going anywhere.

Pressure rating: 2/10

Nic Negrepontis

Port Adelaide club banner

Ken Hinkley

Time is running out for Ken Hinkley to deliver Port Adelaide a second AFL premiership and the first of his near decade-long tenure.

The Power have lost three Preliminary Finals – including back-to-back home defeats in 2020 and 2021 – and are yet to make a Grand Final since Hinkley took over in 2013.

While they boast an impressive home and away record over the last two seasons, Port have ultimately fallen short when it matters most, with Hinkley coming in for criticism after last year’s 71-point finals hiding to the Western Bulldogs at Adelaide Oval.

Hinkley, who is contracted until the end of 2023, was publicly backed by president David Koch following the loss to the Bulldogs, guaranteeing his position for 2022.

Will Koch be as forgiving if the Power fall short once again?

Pressure rating: 8/10

Alex Zaia

Richmond club banner

Damien Hardwick

Richmond has won three premierships since 2017 so the only pressure on Damien Hardwick is to keep the ship steady at this point.

While the Tigers will be aiming for finals and to push for contention once more after a 2021 season where everything possible went wrong, it would take something very out of the blue for Hardwick’s job to come under scrutiny – Brendon Gale is not Jeff Kennett, after all.

Hardwick has been at the helm at Tigerland since 2010 and given the enormity of their recent success, it’s hard to suggest there’s any real pressure on him barring a total collapse in performance.

The Tigers have been dealing with varying degrees of off-field indiscretions these last few years and there will be some pressure on the coaching staff to keep things in check, particularly in what will be another COVID-affected season.

Pressure rating: 3/10

Nic Negrepontis

St Kilda club banner

Brett Ratten

St Kilda president Andrew Bassat raised eyebrows last year when he said the Saints’ “window” to contend for the premiership will likely start in 2022 rather than 2021.

On the back of missing the finals last year and finishing sixth in 2020, the pressure is on coach Brett Ratten to lift the Saints back into the eight.

Given their list build since 2019 – where several players were acquired from other clubs – Ratten will hope to justify that strategy with a September appearance in 2022.

The way they lost games last season was a major concern.

Ratten was unable to stem the tide in heavy defeats to Essendon (75 points), Richmond (86), Port Adelaide (54) and the Western Bulldogs (111), highlighting the gulf between their best and their worst.

A good start is absolutely paramount for Ratten - one of several AFL coaches coming out of contract this year.

Pressure rating: 8/10

Alex Zaia

Sydney club banner

John Longmire

2012 premiership coach John Longmire might find himself back in a position to challenge for a flag a decade after tasting flag success with the Swans.

Having reached the mountain top at the start of his tenure, Longmire has lead the club through a rebuild and they’ve now come out the other side, rising 10 spots from 16th to six in 2021 to play finals.

With a young, talented list, you’d expect Sydney to play finals again in 2022, with anything less probably placing a bit of pressure on the top job.

While the expectation is there this campaign, Longmire is a seasoned campaigner and looms as the long-term coach in the Harbour City, proving his commitment to the club after he knocked back an offer from North Melbourne just two years ago.

Currently contracted until the end of 2023, you’d expect Longmire to remain there far beyond that if his Swans continue in their current trajectory.

Pressure rating: 4/10

Lachlan Geleit

West Coast club banner

Adam Simpson

Adam Simpson cut a forlorn figure as the Eagles’ finals hopes slipped away in the second half of the last season. When West Coast trailed cellar-dwellers Collingwood by 50 points late in their Round 20 meeting at the MCG, his message was simple.

“Run. Start running, start defending better, work together better. I thought the Pies used their brains more than we did with their ball movement,” he reiterated to reporters. “We gave them some clarity at half-time, but we shouldn’t need to.”

When teams refused to kick into West Coast’s web, the towering facade of their tempo footy crumbled, and it was evident the Eagles had little interest in running for each other or applying pressure.

If the message isn’t stale, the coach may still be hemmed in by the list build, the Eagles having pushed in their chips on this team at the end of 2019 when two first round and two second round selections were posted to Geelong in exchange for Tim Kelly.

Oscar Allen is ready to lead the forward line, recruit Sam Petrevski-Seton will enliven their rotation and powerful, cerebral interceptors in Tom Barrass and Harry Edwards have emerged, but the talent isn’t on tap at Lathlain.

If there is to be an upswing, it has to come from what the coach already has, and at the moment his hand is limping, ageing onballers and an unvaccinated spearhead. Simpson is one of the game’s more intricate minds, but it will be a challenge to coach a bounce from this group.

West Coast look weary and cynical, and they could still be set for an entire season on the road. If not, and they continue to drop games at home, the “Craypot” will be a roiling environment.

Pressure rating: 9/10

Nathan John

Western Bulldogs banner

Luke Beveridge

Last season the premiership coach threw off the shackles of consecutive elimination final exits to guide the Bulldogs to a second Grand Final in six seasons.

Having re-engineered the list around the youthful nucleus of the 2016 premiership team, Luke Beveridge has once more forged a deep emotional connection with his players.

His fluid, possession-based football entertains all comers in a tactically conservative competition, while his trust and understanding with players has hit the fast forward button on effervescent talents such as Aaron Naughton, Bailey Smith and Cody Weightman.

Beveridge has turned key position recruits Alex Keath and the injured Josh Bruce into world-beaters, and made role players of others. Few if any players come under his tutelage and are worse for it.

If we’re being honest with each other, this is his job for as long as he wants it.

However, he has one of the most talented teams in the competition at his disposal, doubtless the deepest midfield, and their first opportunity to snap up silverware as a group was squandered in a late lapse.

Supporters and analysts will expect Beveridge to stitch up the holes behind the Dogs’ stoppage and centre bounce set-ups, and solve their issues in confronting elite rucks. If not, expect some prickly press conferences this winter.

Pressure rating: 3/10

Nathan John

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