It's time for the Pies to help Nathan Buckley transition out graciously

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"If it bleeds, it leads" is a favourite saying of crusty old newspapermen about the readership appeal of news stories involving death. Likewise, "if it flies, it's the Pies" might well be another truism about coverage of AFL football. Particularly if things aren't going well. And Collingwood is certainly bleeding right now.

The Magpies' "saleability" in media terms might be a well-worn cliché, but nonetheless still very apt. However they're travelling, the Magpies are always big news. And rest assured the fallout from last Saturday's loss to Gold Coast will be but an entrée to the impending feast should they lose again to winless North Melbourne this week.

It's a game with "danger" written all over it. The Roos have been a lot more competitive of late, and an ice-breaking win would be suitable reward for their recent efforts. Collingwood, in contrast, looked not just disjointed, but disinterested at times against the Suns.

At 1-6, it's already the Pies' worst start to a season under the coaching of Nathan Buckley, and the worst start under anyone since 2005. So what's the worst case scenario should a sixth straight loss ensue on Saturday, putting Collingwood, on points, equal last on the ladder?

The Magpies are already certainly being tested on the public relations front. Buckley, out of contract at the end of this season, has declared he wants to continue, but has volunteered the mid-season bye, which for Collingwood is Round 14, would be an appropriate time to make a decision.

Buckley has some influential voices in the game spruiking on his behalf for Collingwood to announce a re-signing sooner than later in the name of stability. Few doubt that is a grace that wouldn't, or hasn't been afforded a peer like Carlton's David Teague.

And Buckley being a big name, Collingwood being a big club, makes the situation by nature more precarious. How happy would a huge fan base be were a re-signing to be announced now or even the status quo prevail for another six games, while the Pies continued to lose? Not very is the simple answer.

Simple momentum generated by events can tear to pieces even the most carefully-laid plans, and that has to be a strong possibility should the Pies lose against the Roos. Which is why were I new president Mark Korda or football manager Graham Wright (and I'm glad I'm not), I'd be strongly considering the following course of action, win or lose on Saturday.

Much as like many in the game I've been a Buckley fan, it's hard not to conclude his race at Collingwood is run. And to a certain extent, because of events beyond his control.

The costly Dayne Beams trade, the salary cap debacle costing the Pies Adam Treloar, Jaidyn Stephenson and Tom Phillips, and the under-performance of the likes of Jordan De Goey and Brodie Grundy have all been daggers through the heart of Collingwood's on-field situation.

Collingwood right now looks like a textbook case of a team in decline. Unbalanced in terms of list demographics, it has veterans whose performance levels are on the wane, a tier underneath not having proved capable of the same week-to-week leadership examples, kids who are still too raw for the Pies to know for sure they can drive the future, and too many honest but limited toilers.

Off the field, the Eddie McGuire saga, the fall-out from the "Do Better" racism report and the turnover of executive positions have made an entire club a wobbly proposition. It's a convergence of events which screams "fresh start needed", not a chaotic whirlwind of crisis befitting a scene from the Collingwood-based play and movie "The Club".

It's also a chance for Collingwood to reassert its position as a calm and controlled, professional organisation with a systematic approach to sorting out its problems.

I think the Magpies should have that hard discussion with Buckley now. However attached he is to the position and desperate to continue, he's also a realist, likely the last person to scream he'd be hard done by if the decision was made to move on.

I think then (and this is the point on which many will disagree) he should be persuaded to continue coaching Collingwood until the end of the season, giving the Pies time both to find a replacement, and to start preparing a list strategy with which the incoming coach, whoever it is, will be enthusiastic about embracing.

The opposition to that idea will be that players won't have enough incentive to perform knowing the coach will be leaving. Nor Buckley enough to push himself to his full coaching capabilities. Either theory sells short the professionalism of AFL football now.

Buckley can set himself up as a candidate for a position elsewhere with an improved performance. As for Collingwood players, their AFL futures may well depend on how they perform over the next 15 games.

It's a mature, level-headed approach which would take the heat out of the current equation, likely only to continue for as long as the future remains unresolved.

It also means Collingwood could avoid being pushed into going longer-term with an interim coach who happened to cajole a few more wins from the Pies. And despite protestations to the contrary, that's what inevitably happens with a fill-in who does even passably, most recently with Rhyce Shaw at North Melbourne.

Collingwood being Collingwood, the choice of a successor will be the subject of enormous scrutiny. As will the type of coaching successor.


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Does a club which inevitably draws such intense focus need a strong figure who has been there, done that? If that is the case, Ross Lyon seems an obvious candidate. Is it strong enough to go with a lower-profile name with excellent coaching credentials and plenty of experience as an assistant. Someone such as Adam Kingsley?

Either way, it is a decision which cannot be made properly in attempted secrecy likely to end up being exposed anyway. Nor with a fill-in seen as auditioning for the role on a permanent basis.

Collingwood, remember, has done this before, transitioning away from Tony Shaw as coach over the latter half of 1999, Shaw in the full knowledge it would be his last season in the post. A loyal Magpie, he did what was asked of him for the club's benefit. Buckley should feel no embarrassment in doing similarly.

Collingwood is always a big story. Collingwood in trouble an even bigger one. There's only so much the Magpies can do about that status. But they can at least ward off some of the potential sensationalism surrounding the coaching position and the Pies' playing future with an honest, open and methodical process in which everyone is not only on the same page, but in the know.

Buckley, above anyone else, deserves at least that. And so do Collingwood supporters. And the media? Well, it has a story however the process is played out. Just hopefully for the Pies, this time, without the blood.

You can read more of Rohan Connolly's work at FOOTYOLOGY.