Today, it has occurred to many within that same oft-suffocating AFL universe, that Dean Laidley is far from the only ex-senior coach who has fallen from greats heights, in the manner of the protagonist in Greek tragedy.
Barely two years before Laidley was arrested on a stalking charge and photographed dressed as a woman, the former Geelong and Essendon coach Mark “Bomber” Thompson was charged with drug offences and while he evaded jail, the two-time premiership coach was forced to admit to a drug problem and that a convicted criminal had been living in his Port Melbourne abode, where ice was found.
Last year, football mourned Danny Frawley after the genial “Spud” drove into a tree outside Ballarat, ramping up the conversation about mental health for coaches, Frawley having been public about this struggles.
James Hird is another coach who, while enduring the slings and arrows of the Essendon drug saga during his coaching, encountered significant and dangerous mental demons later.
There’s little argument within the game that the pressures that the senior coach faces, exacerbated by social media and the 24-7 media cycle, is nonpareil within AFL.
If Laidley, Thompson, Frawley and Hird are vastly different people with unique circumstances, it is noteworthy that each of them encountered their difficulties once the music ceased and they were without one of those coaching chairs.
“You get in this environment where you get this big endorphin hits and these dopamine hits from playing footy and winning and succeeding and achieving,” said Carlton coach David Teague.
You take that away and I think players and coaches, it’s something they can struggle [with] if they don’t have enough purpose in life.
“And then you leave that environment and … you probably miss the bonds from the relationships.
“You take that away and I think players and coaches, it’s something they can struggle [with] if they don’t have enough purpose in life.”
Brayshaw and Teague expressed concern that the financial crisis facing the AFL and anticipated cut backs in staff – including many assistant coaches – would place an even greater burden on the senior coach.
Conversely, Teague’s old coach at North and Carlton, Denis Pagan, felt that the number of staff underneath the main coach had made his job more difficult, that it could well be easier with fewer answering to him. That said, Pagan observed of the coach’s lot: “It was always hard but it’s a bit tougher now.”
Another possibility to ponder is that coaching draws certain types of personalities – intense, driven figures who don’t necessarily maintain work-life balances, and that full-bore professionalism has removed the opportunity for coaches to escape into another job.
Brayshaw noted that senior coaches tended to be the kind of men who were reluctant to seek help, worrying “about themselves last and everybody else first.”
As Laidley’s fall follows Thompson’s and co, perhaps the coaching game, too, will be facing a transition to a kinder, gentler world.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.