Adelaide has a long and illustrious history of choosing coaches who favour fitness, numbers and strategy over instinct, motivation and inspiration. Read: Neil Craig, Brenton Sanderson and now Don Pyke. Yet, any nuff on the outer at any Australian Rules Football ground anywhere in the country knows that the former only gets you so far. And that it’s the latter that wins you premierships.
Clearly, the past four premiership coaches are leaders that their players want to follow. Simpson is honest and radiates genuine care for his players. Hardwick is genuine and fiery, hence it’s easy to see how good he might be at firing a playing group up. Beveridge, in the same vein as the late Phil Walsh, seems like the kind of coach who’d be unafraid to have a ‘man conversation’ with his players. And Clarkson just oozes fighting spirit.
Don Pyke isn’t in that category. His press conferences are a great cure for insomnia. The idea of Pyke delivering any level of inspirational speech to a group is a difficult vision to grasp.
Arguably, ability to inspire is the single most important quality a coach possesses. Any candidate for an AFL coaching job has done their time. They know the game. Realistically there are only so many ways you can move a football over a field. So, the difference between premiership coaches and the also-rans comes down to two things. First, the players. If you don’t have the players, you can’t win anything. That much everyone agrees on. Second, and probably most importantly, their ability to fuse a group together – to make them feel like a family and to want nothing other than to fight with each other for the win at all costs.
In this way, I completely disagree with Mark Robinson’s assertion on AFL 360 (29/7/2019) that more blame needs to be placed on the Adelaide players. Yes, the players must be held accountable. But having been a teacher, I understand fully that simply standing in front of a group and berating them achieves nothing. Especially a group of young males. Fear is no longer a valued or valuable motivator.
Equally though, not providing accountability makes a leader seem soft. The trick is to strike a balance – to be someone who can call a player out on their shortcomings and in the same breath inspire them to be better.
It’s my belief that Don Pyke is incapable of this. If what he says in the media is an indication, his head is too often in the books and not often enough in players faces – making them feel.
Perhaps then, Sunday’s pizza and beer meet up at Pyke’s house will prove a good circuit breaker. Perhaps it shows a side of Don to the players that they needed to see. Or perhaps it sends the message that mediocrity will be rewarded. Something that Adelaide has been famous for in the past twenty years.
It seems clear Pyke will remain the coach for at least the 2020 season, given the cost to the club of cutting short his contract. However, Jake Niall in The Age yesterday quoted Adelaide Football Club Chairman Rob Chapman as saying that Pyke had, “the full support of the board.” And if you listen to The Coodabeen Champions on ABC Melbourne, you’ll know what that means.