Brenton Sanderson the latest in a long line of casualties

Date: September 19, 2014 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Once again a contract in the world of elite sport has proven to be worth less than the paper it is written on when it comes to job stability and security.

Most in the AFL world shook their head when they heard the news yesterday that Adelaide had given coach, Brenton Sanderson his marching orders.

The axe appears to have fallen swiftly taking all by surprise.

One would imagine the man himself would have been somewhat stunned by the news.

In the history of the Adelaide Football Club – which entered the league in 1991 – Sanderson’s winning percentage of 56.5 is the best of the seven coaches that the club has employed.

Even Malcolm Blight, who led the Crows to their only two premierships, could only manage a 55.4 per cent winning record during his 74-game reign.

Sanderson’s tenure as senior coach lasted 69 matches.

It is fair to say that Blight’s sides possessed more star quality than the one Sanderson has had to work with during his three seasons at the helm.

Players like Andrew McLeod, Mark Ricciuto, Nigel Smart, Simon Goodwin, Shaun Rehn and Tony Modra would waltz into Adelaide’s current best 22.

In his first season in charge in 2012, Sanderson took the Crows to a preliminary final – a match they lost to Hawthorn by just five points.

Last year, Adelaide finished 11th with a 10-12 win-loss record.

This season the club finished tenth with an 11-11 record – one game out of the top-eight and with a percentage 8.3 higher than Richmond that snagged the last spot in September action.

Yet, despite that record, Sanderson was jettisoned.

He still had two years to serve on his contract – one that was renegotiated in December – when the guillotine fell.

It has been mooted that Sanderson may have fallen out with some of his senior players.

Other reports indicate that he failed to win over Ricciuto, the former skipper who is now on the club’s board and carries the role of Football Director.

Whatever the reasons, they only developed in the past few months otherwise the contract extension signed last Christmas would not have been inked.

Sanderson will receive a payout however that will be scant reward for a man who passionately believed in the club, its players and the path ahead.

It appears that Melbourne’s move to secure the services of Goodwin, a dual premiership player and triple best-and-fairest with the Crows, as a long term assistant to be groomed to step into Paul Roos shoes down the track possibly predicated the incumbent’s axing.

From the outside it appeared at the time of the announcement of Sanderson’s demise that dual Geelong premiership coach and the man who steered Essendon through this season, Mark Thompson could also have been in the frame.

Thompson himself scuppered that idea in the strongest possible terms when approached by the media late yesterday, saying, “No, I’m not interested. I wouldn’t go there, especially now”.

Sanderson had served as an assistant coach to Thompson during his premiership reign at the Cats and his former mentor’s comments seemed to echo most people in football who were shocked at Sanderson’s sacking.

Sanderson is by no means an orphan when it comes to coaches being axed.

It has happened since time in memoriam in the sport, and most other codes as well.

Indeed some clubs, like St Kilda, could well have installed a revolving door outside the coach’s office with the Saints having employed 15 coaches in the past 40 years.

This current season is about to reach its climax with the premiership to be decided in ten days.

The dust will no sooner have settled before the attention turns to the post-season trade period.

During that window clubs will hawk around players who are still under contract.

Scant regard at times will be given to the desires and wishes of the players concerned as clubs look to off-load previously seen essential talent in preference for other players or draft picks, or in some cases, both.

Players who have literally bled for the guernsey will in some cases be forced to wear another one next season and beyond.

In modern elite level sport contracts are really there to be honoured by the coaches and players and not the clubs.

Yes, contracts still need to be paid out should a club employee be moved on, but the very decision to terminate someone’s services is made on a purely mercenary basis.

If players and coaches are neither terminated nor retire they are expected to honour their contract.

Yet, from the clubs point of view, termination or on-selling is simply a fact of business.

Unfortunately, when it comes to contractual matters in the AFL, loyalty is pretty much a one-way street.

Brenton Sanderson is the latest example.

Is it any wonder that the AFLPA was keen to see the introduction of free agency for the players, a move that not surprisingly, the clubs in the main opposed.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 18 September 2014