Problem Bulldogs can’t fix with new coach

The news that Trent Barrett has quit as Bulldogs coach is something of a surprise to me, given he clearly had the overwhelming support of Phil Gould.

Gus is the boss there, he runs the football side of things, and whenever there’s been any rumblings about the coaching job Gus has been straight on the defensive, it was like a red rag to a bull to be honest. Whenever there’s been talk of Trent being under pressure he’s always shut it down.

Barrett was only halfway through a three-year contract, so I think the split is premature.

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Clearly, as I’ve written a number of times, rugby league is a results-driven business, and so far the results haven’t been there for Trent.

He’s had five wins in 34 weeks, which isn’t ideal, but I look at what he had to deal with last year with the roster, which we all know was sub-par, and I don’t think this year it’s improved that much.

Their best signing has been a winger, Josh Addo-Carr, and there’s only so much a winger can do. He’s not directing the play. He’s on the end of most plays, he’s not leading the team around the field.

Their second best signing is Matt Burton. I’ve met Matt Burton, he’s a very quiet guy, he’s never going to be the general to walk into the club and start telling others what to do.

They need a halfback who’s going to do that, an old-school halfback who steers the team around the park and lets Burton run off that. For me that’s Kyle Flanagan, but he’s only been back in first grade for a few weeks.

The rest of their signings, you have to remember many of them were let go by their previous clubs. They were happy to let them go, it’s not like there was a tug-of-war to get hold of them.

It doesn’t matter who’s coaching the team, the roster is what it is, and they’re a few years away from being genuinely competitive.

The signings of Addo-Carr and Burton were good, I’ve got no doubt they’re both stars of the game, but a winger and the Dally M center of the year who’s now playing five-eighth isn’t going to take a team from the wooden spoon to the finals.

The reality is it’s easier to get rid of one person – the coach – rather than 17 players who aren’t necessarily performing. You can’t pay out 17 contracts, it just doesn’t work that way.

But I don’t know of any coach who could go in there with that current roster and do much with it, and the fact is both Gus and Barrett had little or no influence on the make-up of the roster for 2022.

Gus has been there less than a year, and Trent was only into his second season, so a lot of the contracts are hangovers from the past. Trent did what he could, but I don’t think you can put the blame on either.

The problem is when you’re at the bottom of the ladder, it’s very hard to get a top player to come to your club, and if you do, you’ve generally got to pay overs to attract the player, and that hurts you down the track.

It’s a vicious cycle.

Everyone remembers Penrith’s famous five-year plan, which eventually won them a premiership after about a decade, but it is seriously that long to completely overhaul your roster. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Two things people don’t fully understand is that you have to fill your roster, and you have to spend 95 per cent of your salary cap. This is the real problem for the clubs.

If you’re trying to sign someone to fill your roster, but he’s just your average first grader, the managers know all the tricks, they know the rules inside out. Instead of being able to sign that average player on a one-year deal, you’re often forced to offer a two or three year contract, because you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Because the managers know you’ve got to sign 30 players, and use up 95 per cent of your salary cap, instead of getting a roster-filler for one year at $200,000, you might be stuck with him for two or three years at $300,000 .

You multiply that by two or three players, and all of a sudden your salary cap is a bit of a mess, because you’ve got some really good money tied up in players who aren’t going to win you games.

It’s a very hard situation for clubs to manage.

Another issue for clubs as they go through the rebuilding phase is that people expect results immediately. Fans pay their money, they go to the ground, and if they see a team that they feel isn’t performing up to first grade standard they’re not shy about letting everyone know.

And the first thing they call for? The coach to be sacked. Everyone sees it as the easiest solution. Remember, it was only two years ago that Bulldogs fans wanted Dean Pay sacked.

In my experience, the head coach is like the bad cop, he’s the angry one who’s always barking orders, it’s the assistant coaches who generally play the good cop role and keep some kind of balance.

Once you lose the boss, everyone takes their foot off the gas a bit. I remember in 2014 when Shane Flanagan wasn’t at the Sharks, it’s like being at school when the regular teacher isn’t there and the relief teacher comes in, everyone starts playing up a bit.

Once the boss is gone, everyone eases off a few per cent, whether it’s a conscious thing or sub-conscious. It’s just a fact of life. It’s not unique to a football team, it probably happens in most workplaces in the country.

Where the Bulldogs go from here with the appointment of a full-time coach for 2023 will be interesting. Shane Flanagan and Paul Green are probably contenders, as is Cameron Ciraldo if he wants the job, and I don’t think his lack of experience as a head coach is a problem, because you’ve got Gus there.

Having a rookie head coach under Gus would work fine, particularly Ciraldo, who Gus knows very well.

But the fans need to remember the roster isn’t going to suddenly change. There are no real winners here, it’s going to be a long haul back to the top for the Bulldogs.

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