Carlton's Coaching Search And The Beauty Of The Blank Page
In these frustrating, anxiety-riddled times which have extended to an AFL landscape that doesn’t quite feel the same as it used to, Carlton has prevailed as a cuddly therapy dog to help guide neutrals through the despondency of a locked-down life.
After one more disastrous, underwhelming season that saw yet another Blues coach excommunicated, it appeared all but certain that Ross Lyon would take over, yet events late last week meant Lyon won’t be making Barkly Plaza his new local shopping centre.
From a narrative perspective, Carlton is the gift that keeps on giving.
Pick an angle and an interesting conversation is possible: David Teague was a terrible mistake, David Teague should still be coaching. Ross Lyon would have been perfect, Ross Lyon would be better in an environment with as few other employees as possible. The Blues could be headed towards another wooden spoon, the Blues could be a legitimate premiership dark horse next season.
At the moment, Carlton is the best blank page in sport and allows for our imaginations to run wild.
What makes this current blank page so seductive is that so many of this club’s previous pages paint a picture of a once truly great club. Only Essendon has as many as Carlton’s 16 flags, while only Collingwood (28) has more than Carlton’s 22 legendary figures in the Australian Football Hall of Fame.
They’re one of the most iconic clubs in the sport, though right now they’re at perhaps their weakest and most confusing juncture in their 157-year history.
This is nothing at all like your usual “club needs a coach” kind of story.
For starters, this process is apparently going to take another 30-45 days and will presumably incorporate something from the set of TV show “Gladiator”.
And what the club does over these next six weeks could change everything. If the Blues get this appointment wrong, they could face another decade or two of further competitive irrelevance.
Sure, some supreme top-end talent is here, but let’s remember the Blues won just eight games in 2021 for a reason, and lugged around the league’s second-worst defence.
This despite the relative luxury of only having to play a league-low five games outside Victoria. Carlton in fact dropped three games to bottom-four opponents this season, which was as bad a number as in any of their recent handful of wooden spoon campaigns.
Yet, if Carlton can get this hire right, there’s no reason it can’t become a force in a short time.
The Blues’ top five players are exceptionally good, while they might even add in Adam Cerra during the trade period. Few teams have the cluster of young talent all coming through together like the Blues do. Think Hawthorn with Franklin, Roughead, Rioli and Mitchell, or Geelong with Ablett, Scarlett, Bartel and Chapman- It’s the sort of generational talent in which premierships are often born.
While Lyon could well have been an excellent Carlton coach, with Princes Park perhaps the one place that could have done with his unique stylings, the fact that he won’t affords the Blues the perfect opportunity to do something they haven’t done in a very long time, and that’s conduct an actual far-reaching coaching search.
And where that might take them is extraordinarily thrilling.
Can they get Alastair Clarkson to change his mind about his 2022 plans even though he’s said multiple times that he won’t? Do the likes of AFL HQ darlings Brad Scott or Michael Voss make sense for the Blues? Could Carlton enact an audacious poach of a currently-tenured coach, perhaps one who’s presently employed in Western Australia?
Could their search, like the Bulldogs’ own seven years ago, take a dramatic turn at the last minute and net them their own Luke Beveridge? Could they be as bold as Brisbane was five years ago and secure a Chris Fagan-like signature?
Could an untried coach, like Blake Caracella or Daniel Giansiracusa or Jaymie Graham, prove to be Carlton’s pot of gold, or will an insistence on “experience” potentially lock them out of gaining the game’s next superstar mind?
Again, absolutely anything is possible right now.
The only thing certain is that Carlton is in an undeniable mess, with two decades of trauma taking its toll on this once stupendous football club.
If nothing else however, this position ought to be highly sought-after.
The idea of working with this kind of talent coupled with the lure of resurrecting this moribund club makes the position uniquely tantalising. In fact, you might have to go back 25 years to when Leigh Matthews took over in Brisbane, or perhaps back to late 1980, when Essendon hitched its ride to Kevin Sheedy to find a more alluring vacancy.
Carlton, despite its turmoils, has reminded everyone of the drama and intrigue of sport as well as the sheer splendour of the blank page.
How this club fills in that page over the next 30-45 days will be one of the most absorbing stories to follow.
* This article first appeared on Rohan Connolly's FOOTYOLOGY website
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