The problem with coaches staying too long: Will Brisbane have the courage to move Chris Fagan on if they don’t contend?


Brisbane has started the season poorly, and different theories abound as to why.

Prominent among those over the last week has been the reporting of internal unrest after various happenings related to an off-season trip divided the playing group.

These allegations are always hard to prove, and the impact on the football results is even harder to decipher.

Could that Lions US trip be this year’s version of the infamous Adelaide boot camp? Both teams were losing grand finalists after all, the Lions last year, and the Crows in 2017.

What’s forgotten in the aftermath of the Adelaide fall-out is that they were actually sitting in the top four after nine rounds of 2018, including an early season victory over their premiership conqueror Richmond, to theoretically vanquish some demons.

These things can fester under the surface for a while before taking hold, and the Crows that year fell apart heading into the bye rounds, never to recover.

Brisbane is certainly playing like a team lacking in connection, a problem that is materializing in the forward half of the ground.

Starting in 2019, the Lions have ranked #1, #3, #1, #1 and #1 in scoring. No team has kicked more goals than them in the last five years, and it’s a big gap to second.

We all know the names – Charlie Cameron, Joe Daniher, Eric Hipwood, Zac Bailey, Cam Rayner and Lincoln McCarthy, with support from the likes of Dayne Zorko and Hugh McCluggage, plus others no longer at the club like Dan McStay and Jack Gunston.

Brisbane has played attractive attacking football under Chris Fagan, with plenty of firepower to capitalize on it.

Where the Lions haven’t been as strong is defensively, having never rated in the top four for scores against while Fagan has been coach. Even making the grand final last season, they were ranked sixth. In 2022, it was 10th.

Perhaps Brisbane is trying to short things up defensively this year, and hasn’t found that balance yet. If so, it’s not working given they are conceding 90 points per game.

What makes it all stranger is the fact the Lions were 46 points up against Carlton in Round 1, 25 points up against Fremantle in Round 2, and had nine scoring shots to Collingwood’s 0 in the second quarter on the weekend.

Chris Fagan (Photo by Daniel Pockett/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

They are having their period of dominance in games, but aren’t making the most of it, it’s not lasting long enough, and they have been unable to prevent runs of goals against themselves.

It could be that the playing group is mentally tired, having tried to climb the mountain for five years in a row, getting close but not being able to seal the deal with premiership glory.

Five years is a long time to go unrewarded with a playing group that isn’t getting any younger.

From 2008-2010 we saw both St Kilda and Western Bulldogs not be able to turn consistent top-four finishes into a flag, and then drop away.

St Kilda drew the first grand final in 2010, in similar agonizing circumstances to Brisbane’s loss to Collingwood last year, and only won one of their first seven games in 2011.

The Dogs lost three prelims in a row and then tumbled out of the eight altogether.

From 2005-09, Adelaide made finals every year, finished top five four times, including on top of the ladder and were premiership favourites at various points. They could never crack it for the big win – and eventually fell away.

Brisbane Lions gun Dayne Zorko commented on this United States trip story from the offseason.#afl #daynezorko #brisbanelions #lions

— SENQ 693 (@SENQLD) April 2, 2024

In more recent times, GWS have been the cautionary tale.

Preliminary finals in 2016-17, semi-finals in 2018 and 2021, either side of a grand final loss in 2019, before tumbling all the way to a bottom three finish in 2022 – that was a year where they played tired football, ultimately ending in Leon Cameron getting rightly sacked.

A new coach was exactly what they needed.

This is Chris Fagan’s eighth year at the helm, and he is contracted for a ninth on top of it. One of the problems we see constantly in the AFL is that clubs don’t change coaches of good teams quickly enough. They almost always wait until it’s too late.

GWS moving on Cameron far too late is just one example of it, and we are seeing what Adam Kingsley is doing with the Giants now.

Collingwood held on for too long to Nathan Buckley and won a flag with Craig McRae once a change was made.

Chris Scott won a premiership in his first season at Geelong after Bomber Thompson was cooked.

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Richmond didn’t act on Damien Hardwick like they should have two years ago, and look where they are now.

Hawthorn could have been brave with Alastair Clarkson instead of waiting until they were a basket case.

Port refuses to move on from Ken Hinkley despite no grand final appearances in 11 years, where the Power either don’t make finals or lose them.

Let’s not even get started on Adam Simpson and West Coast or Luke Beveridge at the Dogs.

Brisbane have gotten themselves into a hole, and it will be hard to recover from.

They’ll surely get their win against North Melbourne this week, and sometimes that’s all it takes. It doesn’t matter who the win is over, confidence is found, and all the old connections get remembered and built upon.

We’ll get to see how far that confidence takes them in the following three weeks, against Melbourne at the MCG, Geelong at the Gabba, and GWS in Canberra.

By the end of that run, we’ll know whether the Lions are back in the hunt or whether 2024 will be a wasted year.

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