Triple premiership coach Damien Hardwick is set to detail the bombshell move behind his decision to leave Richmond, sparking the prospect of changes at rival AFL clubs.
Hardwick is expected to hold a news conference Tuesday morning as he addresses the most high-profile midseason coaching departure in recent memory.
Burnout from the stress of senior coaches is believed to have been a factor in the 50-year-old’s shock after 307 games over 14 seasons.
Hardwick is the longest-serving manager in Richmond’s history and will go down alongside Tom Heaphy as one of the club’s all-time greats, having led the Tigers in 2017, 2019 and 2020.
There will be speculation about Hardwick’s future and whether, or when, he could coach another club again next year or beyond.
Richmond will also move quickly to assess the coaching market, with assistant coach Andrew McQualter likely to take over on an interim basis.
Port Adelaide’s Ken Hinkley is out of contract at the end of this season, West Coast’s Adam Simpson is under huge pressure after a dreadful run and Stuart Dew is unlikely to afford another year without September action on the Gold Coast.
A cloud also hangs over North Melbourne, with Alastair Clarkson on indefinite leave from the club.
Hinckley, who rejected an overture from Essendon last year, was runner-up to Hardwick for the Richmond job at the end of 2009 before winning the Power role ahead of the 2013 season.
Hinckley and Port Adelaide have repeatedly said they have delayed contract talks until at least August, although that could now change.
The Power may be keen to lock up the 56-year-old after a run of seven successive victories has seen the club challenge for the premiership.
McQualter is expected to take charge of Richmond’s clash with Port Adelaide at the MCG on Sunday.
Former senior coaches David Teague and Ben Rutten are also among the Tigers’ assistants and could step in if needed.
Collingwood coach Craig McRae said he was “shocked” by Hardwick’s decision to step down when the news broke on Monday night.
McRae served as an assistant under Hardwick from 2017-2020 and said his former mentor “bravely” coached a job that angered people.
“You’re getting tired. You have to find sources of energy,” McRae told Fox Footy.
“You’re constantly trying to find the right balance to find the right energy to give your playing group.
“You find the energy of your players and then you get home and you’re tired. Your wife and family want you to find energy too.”
Former Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley, who stepped down midway through the 2021 season, wondered if Hardwick had lost the hunger to continue when Richmond fell out of the premiership.
The Tigers have won three and drawn one of 10 games this season since the 2020 premiership, failing to win a final.
“It could be a sign that he doesn’t feel like he has the energy to put in, that he’s not as hungry,” Buckley told Fox Footy.
“It may only be a one or two percent discount. Only he would know exactly what it was. He’s the only one who knows what he feels inside.”
A tough act to follow
Richmond couldn’t be lower when Damien Hardwick took over as manager ahead of the 2010 season.
It had been three decades since the once mighty Tigers tasted ultimate success.
And for most of those 30 years, Richmond was the AFL’s equivalent of a bad joke.
Nobody expected a quick turnaround in fortunes, even under a man who had enjoyed ultimate success as a player for Essendon (2000) and Port Adelaide (2004) and as an assistant coach at Hawthorn under his great friend Alastair Clarkson. (2008).
Just nine games into Hardwick’s tenure and the enormity of the task became clear. the club once again found itself bottom of the ladder with a 0-9 win-loss record and a dismal 56.2 percentage.
They were unkindly labeled “the worst team since Fitzroy” in reference to a woeful Lions outfit that suffered a 1-21 defeat in their final season in 1996.
Hardwick finally managed their first win against Port Adelaide in 2010.
It may not have been clear at the time, but the revival was finally starting with a roster that included a lot of deadwood, but also had Trent Cotchin, Dustin Martin, Jack Riewoldt and Shane Edwards, all of whom would become triple-A heroes in the premiere.
The Tigers finally ended a 12-year drought under Hardwick in 2013, but it was to be the first of three straight finals losses.
When the club slumped to 13th in 2016, there were plenty of people at Punt Road calling for the manager to be in charge.
In years past, when the informal cry of “Eat ‘Em’ Alive” was too often translated as “eat their own,” it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But President Peggy O’Neill, CEO Brandon Gale and prodigal son Neil Balm, finally brought in as the stomping boss, stuck with the coach.
It was an inspired decision.
Twelve months later, the Tigers were celebrating their 11th premiership when an upset 48-point win over Adelaide ended a 37-year drought.
Further flags were won in 2019 against GWS and in 2020 against Geelong with the trademark method of ferocious ball movement now favored by teams such as 2023 premiership favorites Collingwood.
For Hardwick, the 2020 win was the best of all, coming at the unlikely venue of the Gabba in a season dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The coach had initially protested against the restrictions placed on clubs and society as a whole.
“They’re all different, (but) this one I think is very important,” he said after the Dustin Martin-inspired win over the Cats.
“What we’ve had to go through to get here, the 100-odd days in a loop, how tough the AFL has been, the Queensland government, the people of Victoria … it’s just a massive achievement.”
The Tigers missed out on the finals in 2021 and Brisbane rolled in a nail-biting finals in 2022.
With the golden generation of Cochin, Riewoldt, Martin and Koz nearing the end of the road, the club is loaded for what they believe will be another flag swing in 2023, bringing midfielders Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper out of GWS. A selection of a number of projects.
Taranto were among the Tigers’ best in 2023, but with key players such as Tom Lynch and Toby Nankervis out injured, they slipped to 14th on the ladder after round 10.
Never mind chasing a 14th flag, even making the finals in 2023 would be a long shot now.
Hardwick is expected to detail the reasons for his shock departure on Tuesday.
It’s not hard to imagine the phrase “burn” getting airplay.
But his legacy as a Richmond FC legend is secure.
He coached the club a record 307 times and his three flags are second only to the legendary Tom Hafey, who managed the premierships in 1967, 1969, 1973 and 1974.
It will be a tough act to follow.
DAMIEN HARDWICK WILL LEAVE A LEGACY OF FAITH AT AFL CLUB RICHMOND
Essendon: 153 games 1994-2001
* Member of the 2000 Prime Ministerial Team
* 1998 Best and Fairest winner
*Member of the 2000 All-Australian team
Port Adelaide. 54 games in 2002-04
*Member of the prime ministerial team of 2004
Hawthorn assistant coach 2005-09
* Member of the coaching staff of the 2008 Hawks premiership team
Richmond senior manager 2010-23: 307 games (170 wins-131 losses-six draws)
* Coach of 2017, 2019 and 2020 premiership teams
Most games as Richmond coach
307 – Damien Hardwick
248 – Tom Haffey