The cracks in Richmond coach Damien Hardwick’s armor were fully exposed in February before a football was even bounced.
In an unusual move ahead of the first round, the three-time premiership-winning coach indicated his passion for the job had taken a huge hit.
Hardwick admitted he was not at his best throughout 2021 as he faced a marriage breakdown and the Tigers’ dramatic fall in form.
Hardwick and Crow at the 2022 Brownlow Medal Awards at the Crown Palladium
Alistair Clarkson pulled the pin in North Melbourne last week
His high-profile separation from his wife and new partnership with club staff member Alexandra Crow had also taken their toll.
“It was a challenge at times, but you just try to overcome the blows as best you can,” he told Scott Gullan of the Herald Sun.
“The nature of our industry is sensationalism, you know that and unfortunately that’s part and parcel of what comes with it.”
With the Tigers languishing in 13th place on the AFL ladder and the decision to step down next season already in place, Hardwick told stunned fans on Tuesday it was time to step down for good of the club.
He had told Gullan in February that the last year had been a grind, but gave hope to the Tigers faithful that he had enough in the tank to get going again.
“If I’m being completely honest, I haven’t had the best years training-wise,” he said then.
“We misunderstood some things along the way and you have to be upfront and honest with that.
“Probably last year there were a few times where I wasn’t at my best, but I didn’t recognize it fast enough.
‘I’m not going to tell you a suspicion when I say that last year I was tired… we needed the off-season. I needed the break and I feel invigorated.
While Hardwick’s decision to step down mid-season was a kick in the guts for the Tigers faithful, they hit football forums en masse to declare their love for him.
Hardwick’s decision strangely comes on the heels of North Melbourne manager Alastair Clarkson’s mid-season departure last week.
Like Hardwick, Clarkson had been at the center of both a media storm and shocking form on the pitch, with the Kangaroos languishing second-to-bottom on the ladder.
Four-time Hawthorn Premiership-winning coach Clarkson, his then assistant and now Brisbane coach Chris Fagan, and former Hawk player welfare manager Jason Burt have been named in allegations of racism during their time at the club.
Alistair Clarkson had struggled under pressure from the Hawthorn racism saga
Hardwick is known to be good friends with Clarkson.
Kangaroos football boss Todd Viney told reporters last week that Clarkson had succumbed to pressure over the racism scandal.
“Internally, he was so strong. The mask he put on was so clever. He was hiding it from us internally,” he said.
“I knew things were weighing on him. But I didn’t see anything that inhibited his coaching. I always thought, when all of this was said, done and finished, he would be a better coach. It was quite a burden.
The departure of the two coaches has sparked a new debate about the pressures of AFL football and the supports in place for those at the top of their game.
“It’s hard work, I’m not going to lie to you,” Collingwood coach Craig McRae said after hearing Hardwick’s decision.
“It’s tough, you get tired and you have to find sources of energy. You come home and you are exhausted.
Hawthorn legend Luke Hodge said coaching popular AFL teams would be tiring.
“I don’t think there’s a more stressful job in professional sports,” Hodge told The Age.
Former Richmond player and Premiership coach Tony Jewell has suggested coaching an AFL team is one of the toughest jobs there is.
“It’s one of the worst professions known to man, to be a coach,” he told 3AW from Melbourne.
“(Hardwick’s) has been through a lot with these players, and a few of them…their careers are starting to end, and you have to make tough decisions about them.”
Damien Hardwick’s partner Alexandra Crow was the focus of his announcement on Tuesday
Damien Hardwick and his ex-wife Danielle Hardwick at Brownlow 2017.
AFL 360 host Mark Robinson questioned on Monday whether Clarkson’s decision to quit influenced Hardwick.
‘Maybe it was the realization that it was over? As simple as that. We were in the fight and guess what…Richmond is 14th with three after 10 games. They don’t play the finals. he said.
‘Damien Hardwick could have said “you know what? It’s over”. To rebuild without him making decisions about his favorite players that took him to the premierships, they cried for him, bloodied for him.
On Tuesday, Hardwick referenced the punitive effect of training in the AFL as he explained his reasons for leaving.
“It’s hard work being a senior AFL coach, but the support I’ve received from the majority of people has been absolutely outstanding and will forever go down as one of the great things I’ve been in. have never been,” he said.
While Clarkson’s decision to retire from the Kangaroos will take some relief from the media spotlight, his pain is far from over.
In a statement released just four days ago, AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan praised Clarkson’s decision to “prioritize his own health and well-being”.
“We understand how the Independent Panel’s investigation into the racism allegations has impacted everyone involved, including Alastair, and believe the investigation needs to find a solution,” McLachlan said.
“It is a heavy burden carried by all parties involved and the well-being of everyone who is part of this process is the key priority of our game.
“It takes a lot of courage to stand up and say you need to focus on your own personal well-being and we are supporting Alastair to do what he needs to do in the best interests of himself and his family. We will continue to support all parties.
With yet another champion coach leaving under work pressure, fans are wondering if the AFL is doing enough.