AFL 2021: Mid-Season Coach Of The Year Rankings

Coach of the Season awards over the world seem to have no apparent logic underpinning their process.

In the NFL and NBA, Bill Belichick and Gregg Popovich have combined for 11 championships, yet share a somewhat underwhelming six Coach of the Year gongs between them. 

11 years ago, FIFA introduced their own ‘World Coach of the Year’ award, which has since been won by Pep Guardiola only once, with the likes of Diego Simone and Antonio Conte sharing just a single podium finish despite the truckload of success they’ve both yielded. 

And yes, it’s a similar story in the AFL as well. 

Since 2003, we’ve had the ‘Allan Jeans’ award, something perhaps the AFL’s greatest ever coach in Alastair Clarkson has apparently never been good enough to win, whereas John Worsfold clearly has. Twice in fact. 

Chris Scott’s 69.1% overall record, the best of any coach in history with at least 100 games, nup, not good enough, while Damien Hardwick’s three premierships have only translated to a single honour.

It’s of course unquestionably very difficult to assess what’s good, bad or indifferent when it comes to coaching, with championships themselves not always representing the best gauge on who’s doing their job well.

With that said, we’re today undertaking the thankless task of ranking all 18 of the AFL’s coaches through the league’s first eleven rounds.

Here goes.

Check out all of Stats Insider's 2021 AFL season projections

18. Alastair Clarkson

Current Ladder Position- 17

Clarkson still might be the best pound for pound coach in our sport, heck he might even be its best ever, yet his Hawks are floundering rather badly this year, while nothing he's done seems to be able to stop the bleeding.

The Hawks rank 7th for disposal differential and 6th for disposal efficiency, yet dead last for inside-50, and 14th for marks therein. 

Clarkson has contributed 4 premierships to the glittering Hawthorn trophy cabinet, yet he’s also contributed a lot of anguish to their fans this season. 

17. Brett Ratten

Current Ladder Position- 12

Like Clarkson, Ratten’s actually one of the game’s most astute contemporary minds, and could have perhaps won coach of the year honours for what he produced with the Saints last season. 

With that said, the Saints have been dreadful in 2021, with Saturday's 20-point scalp of North doing little to wipe away the humiliation fo their 111-point loss to the Bulldogs the week prior.

Having said that, St Kilda is only a game (and a heavy chunk of percentage) outside of the top-8, while Ratten has previously proved himself capable of turning things around quickly.

RELATED: Deja Saints: How St Kilda Can Wake From Its Nightmare

16. David Noble

Current Ladder Position- 18

The Kangaroos have got plenty of problems, but their rookie head coach truly isn’t one of them. In fact, it could be argued that Noble is actually North’s premier asset, and the best person to help navigate the club out of one of its most challenging on-field periods in their history. 

North's Round 9 victory against the Hawks in Tasmania was one of the most memorable of the season, while the Roos also pushed Geelong and Melbourne to within 5 goals. With that said, the Roos currently have the league's worst attack and worst defence, while their overall 57.8 percentage reveals plenty. 

RELATED: Why North Melbourne's Appointment Of David Noble Offers Them So Much Hope

15. Stuart Dew

Current Ladder Position- 14

Stuart Dew is a good coach, with the potential to be an exceptional one, yet Gold Coast’s performances under his watch continue to be choc-full of what ifs and maybes. 

The Suns are capable of producing some really good quarters of football, and even produce the odd win every now and again, but they remain a team that's continually on the outside looking in. Since Dew was hired he's gone 16-55as coach, while he's lost 29 of his 33 matches against top-8 opposition. While Gold Coast have won 4 games this season, 3 of those scalps have come against the league's 3 worst teams. 

RELATED: The AFL Matchmaker- 18 Coaches, 18 New Jobs

14. Nathan Buckley 

Current Ladder Position- 16

Buckley may or may not extend his 10-season reign at the Magpies into season 2022, yet right now he and his club are struggling mightily. 

While Collingwood’s ‘everything must go’ off-season didn’t help Buckley’s cause, the veteran coach has been unable to steer the club out of the mud, with the club ranked an embarrassing 15th for tackle differential while they are just 1 of 2 clubs (along with North Melbourne) giving up more than 250 uncontested possessions per game. 

With that said, Collingwood have lost 3 games to the Bulldogs, Port and Geelong by a combined 27 points, and while their attack remains flacid, the Pies are ranked 8th where ppg defence is concerned.

RELATED: Are We Sure Ross Lyon And Collingwood Are A Good Match?

13. Matthew Nicks

Current Ladder Position- 15 

Only one and half years into his coaching journey, and the pendulum has swung violently where Matthew Nicks is concerned. From delivering the Crows a maiden wooden spoon in his first year at the helm, to this year producing phenomenal wins over both Geelong and Melbourne, the mood fluctuations inside the Nicks household must be nauseating.

Most importantly, Nicks is squeezing out plenty of talent form his senior core with the likes of Rory Laird, Brodie Smith and Tex Walker still getting the job done, while more importantly, he’s overseeing some excellent development with Lachie Sholl, Harry Schoenberg, Tom Doedee and James Rowe playing every game so far, while the highly-prized Riley Thilthorpe indeed looks the goods, already averaging 3marks and 2 goals over his first half dozen games. 

12. Justin Longmuir 

Current Ladder Position- 11

Like Nicks, Longmuir is just 28 games into his coaching career, and while that’s clearly not a massive data sample, there’s enough evidence to suggest this guy knows what he’s doing. 

In his first season at the helm in 2020, his Dockers prevailed as the 5th best defence in the league, Luke Ryan earned an All-Australian honours, while the Docker’s 93.7 percentage was the club’s best in 5 years. 

This season, Fremantle is out of the top-8 by just a game, while players like Andrew Brayshaw, Caleb Serong and Adam Cerra continue to take their games to another level, while Matthew Taberner has so far produced his best season yet at AFL level. 

11. Adam Simpson

Current Ladder Position- 7

The Stats Insider futures model suggests the Eagles are a 57.1% chance of playing Finals for what would be a league-best 7th-straight season, while Adam Simpson’s overall 64.6% win rate is the 2nd best among active coaches, behind only Chris Scott.

With the said, the Eagles have been decidedly underwhelming this season, continually faltering away from home, while just 1 of their 6 wins this season has come against top-8 opposition. 

In fact, their most recent encounter against a genuine premiership aspirant resulted in a 97-point smashing at Kardinia park, while even their home fortress is starting to look shaky, falling to the Bombers over the weekend. The Eagles are a competition worst 3-8 when it comes to the 4th quarter this season. It's been 19 years since the league's worst last quarter team has been able good enough to make finals.  

10. David Teague

Current Ladder Position- 13

David Teague remains one of the league’s most curious, difficult to assess coaches. 

He’s coached the Blues in 39 games and had just a single loss of more than 31-points. On the other side of the coin, Carlton have spent just a solitary round in the top-8 eight during his realm, with the 2021 season yet another example of the fuzzy picture prevailing at Princes Park. 

This is a team which could well have the All-Australian bookends by season's end (Jacob Weitering and Harry McKay) along with the exceptional Sam Walsh, yet prevails as a 76.1% chance of missing finals for an an 8th-straight season according to the Stats Insider futures model.  

Rank him 18th, rank him 1st. Who the hell knows? 

9. Ken Hinkley 

Current Ladder Position- 5

The reigning coach of the year, Ken Hinkley spectacularly saved his job last season and got the Power to within a kick of its first grand final appearance in 13 years. 

This season? Well the 2021 Power aren’t blowing everyone away like they did last year, yet have occupied a top-5 position all season, winning 8 of their first 11 games. 

That said, there feels something a little laboured about Port in 2021. Their recent games against genuine premiership aspirants have resulted in a home loss to the Bulldogs while getting smashed by Brisbane. Phew, we almost got through this without mentioning flat-track bully-ism.

8. Damien Hardwick 

Current Ladder Position- 8

Again, it’s laughable that this guy only has one coach of the year gong. Clearly he’s one of the AFL’s very best minds, guiding the Tigers first out of the wilderness and then to collecting 3 of the AFL's last 4 premierships.

2021 has been a little rougher owing to a hefty injury list, yet here we are at the half-way point of the season and the Tigers are once again in the top-8. 

In fact, they're 59.9% chance of staying there too, thanks in large part to having the AFL's second-gentlest fixture from here on in according to Stats Insider's schedule difficulty tool

RELATED: Richmond Is The AFL’s First Empire To Be Imagination Powered

7. Ben Rutten

Current Ladder Position- 9

The ‘truck’ has driven the Bombers to an exotic destination the club hasn’t visited in some time, which is a small town located somewhere between Respect and ‘They-Might-Actually Be-Pretty-Damn-Good'. 

In Rutten’s first season as head honcho he has Essendon tackling like mad with their +12 tackle differential eclipsing the league, while he’s turned players such as Will Snelling and Nick Hindinto legitimately good AFL footballers, to say nothing of Darcy Parish's meteoric rise

If Rutten’s debut season is anything to go by, the Bombers might finally have something to look forward to.

RELATED: Here come the Bombers

6. Leon Cameron

Current Ladder Position- 10

Outside of Simon Goodwin, no-one entered season 2021 under more scrutiny than Leon Cameron, with GWS’ dreadful Grand Final cameo punctuated with end of season exits of Jeremy Cameron and Zac Williams

Yet instead of wilting, Cameron’s 8th season at the helm has perhaps been his best yet. 

Despite starting the season 0-3 and enduring the league’s worst injury list, Cameron has the Giants outside the top-8 by just a game at the halfway point of the year. 

Incredibly, the likes of Stephen Coniglio, Phil Davis, Jesse Hogan and Lachie Whitfield have played in less than half of the Giants games this season, with one of the AFL’s best defenders in Sam Taylor, and its premier small forward in Toby Greene not expected back for a couple of weeks either. With North Melbourne, Carlton and Hawthorn up next, the Giants have a path to set themselves up for an improbable return to September.

5. Chris Scott

Current Ladder Position- 4

No coach in the AFL has more unreasonable expectations upon his shoulders, with nothing less than premiership deemed a failure where Chris Scott is concerned.

Despite the task in front of him, Scott continues to dial up exceptional results, with the Cats once again stationed as a top-4 team despite Patrick Dangerfield and Jeremy Cameron combining for just 8out of a possible 22 games this season. 

While these ranking are based on 2021 performances only, just a friendly reminder that Scott’s 69.2% overall win percentage is the best in our sport’s history for any coach with at least 100 games. 

RELATED: Why Chris Scott Is The AFL's Mrs Doubtfire

4. John Longmire

Current Ladder Position- 6

This is season 11 for John Longmire at the Swans, and even with a premiership and a couple of grand finals appearances already under his belt, it could be argued he’s actually producing some of his best work right now. 

Little was expected of the Swans this year, yet they jumped out of the gates, knocking off the Lions at the Gabba and the Tigers at the MCG, while even disposing of the Cats. 

While they have lost 4 of their last 7 games and are starting to lose touch with the top-4, Longmire has provided his team's fanbase with so much hope, unleashing a litany of young stars that at one point had the Swans housing 4 of the Rising Star's 5 favourites. 

RELATED: Survival Guide: Making Peace With Sydney’s Extraordinary Start

3. Chris Fagan

Current Ladder Position- 3

Fagan won ‘Coach of the Year’ honours in just his 3rd season in 2019, yet it’s what he’s producing right now which constitutes his very best work in the coaches box.

He has the Lions on a 7-game winning streak, the bulk of which has been delivered without his  reigning Brownlow Medalist Lachie Neale, while he’s also had to reinvent the Lion’s forward on the fly owing to its early-season struggles. 

Fagan’s lions were teetering at 1-3, yet are now in prime position to secure a 3rd-straight top-4 position and launch yet another premiership assault.

RELATED: Lion Revival: How Brisbane Saved Their 2021 Season

2. Luke Beveridge

Current Ladder Position- 2

Friday night’s struggles against Melbourne notwithstanding, Bevo’s Bulldogs have looked as menacing as anybody this season, enjoying a top-2 spot for 9-straight weeks which isn’t something the club has experienced in 23 years. 

So far, Beveridge has helped fashion the league’s sharpest attack which has already been able to post multiple 100+ victories, and which has been made possible by an utterly devastating midfield that’s won the disposal and clearance count in a combined 20 of its 22 matches this year.

The only blemish so far is the Dogs track-record against the best, losing its assignments against Richmond and Melbourne, yet it’s win over Port in Adelaide and come-from-behind scalp of the Eagles in Round 2 showed plenty of guts. 

While no, the Bulldogs still haven’t won a final since their 2016 premiership, Beveridge has them brilliantly placed to break the run of outs this season.

RELATED: Luke Beveridge Has Absolutely Nothing, And Absolutely Everything To Prove

1. Simon Goodwin

Current Ladder Position- 1

At the halfway point of the year, the coach of the year favourite is unquestionably Simon Goodwin. The Melbourne coach has put two straight seasons of finals absenteeism behind him, piloting the Demons to a scorching 10-1 start, already knocking off four top-8 teams in the process, which most recently included the devouring of the Bulldogs. 

Goodwin did enter season 2021 under immense pressure owing to Melbourne’s rather ordinary 2019 and 2020 campaigns, yet what's easily overlooked is that in 2018 (and in just his 2nd season as coach) he had the club in its first preliminary final in 12 years and with one of the league's youngest and least experienced squads to boot.

Just like he played, Goodwin’s coaching is a reminder that still waters run deep. In fact, calmness and attention to detail might just be enough to break a 57-year premiership drought.

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James Rosewarne

James is a writer and Managing Editor at Stats Insider. He likes fiction and music. He is a stingray attack survivor. He lives in Wollongong.

Email- for story ideas or opportunities.

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