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The Sydney Morning Herald

Drum deserved a more dignified exit

Author: Richard Hinds
Date: 31/05/2001
Words: 716
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Sport
Page: 42
The wisdom of replacing a coach mid-season is often questioned by the experts, particularly by ex-coaches who have suffered a similar indignity.

But Damian Drum, the Fremantle Dockers coach who was sacked yesterday, has little cause for complaint.

Almost halfway through his third season, the Dockers had won just 13 of their 53 games under Drum. This year the record is a dismal 0-9.

While Fremantle remained competitive to the last quarter of the last game in which he coached coincidentally, against the Swans where Drum had been assistant to Rodney Eade it was apparent the anchor on their guernseys was not what was dragging them down. Something had to give.

But it is the insensitive, bungling nature of Drum's dismissal, rather than the justification for it, that will be remembered. Particularly by those top-flight coaches the Dockers will approach in coming months as they attempt to find a full-time replacement.

That Drum's first inkling of his imminent sacking came from the reporters who had circled as he attended a meeting with AFL officials in Perth on Tuesday was unfortunate.

That his first contact from the club was a message left on his answering machine that night was unforgivable.

The Dockers had already fumbled their chance to make a firm decision. Their board met three weeks ago but, with the support of chairman Ross McLean, Drum escaped the guillotine.

When McLean lost the numbers at a subsequent meeting, the process became a bloody mess.

It was not until yesterday afternoon that the axe officially fell.

It was announced former captain Ben Allan would stand in until a full-time appointment was made at the end of the season.

The Dockers are also looking for a chief executive to replace David Hatt, who resigned last week.

More changes in key positions across the club are expected.

Having failed to make any impression on the field during their seven years in the AFL, the Dockers seem to be falling apart off it. Or perhaps they are making a necessary transition. History will be the judge.

The most shameful part of Drum's treatment is that he had acted so honourably.

Under intense pressure from the Perth media, parts of which display a thinly disguised bias toward their home-town rivals West Coast, he had for the most part maintained his dignity.

More importantly, he usually had held his nerve at the recruiting table.

Rather than trade high draft picks for experienced players who might have papered over the cracks (they did use last year's first pick to get Peter Bell from the Kangaroos), Drum had used them to recruit exciting young players such as Paul Hasleby, Matthew Pavlich and Leigh Brown.

The result is that the next Dockers coach will inherit a list that has more potential than recent results suggest.

What the coaching candidates will have to weigh up is not whether the players are good enough, but whether the club's management has the capacity to improve.

The Kangaroos' Denis Pagan, the Western Bulldogs' Terry Wallace and Eade have all been mentioned, although all are contracted for at least one more year.

Melbourne's Neale Daniher, a former Fremantle assistant who enjoyed his time in Perth, was also mentioned as a target.

But yesterday he said he was happy at the Demons. He is also contracted to the club until the end of next year.

After the resignation of controversial president Joseph Gutnick, Melbourne are also in crisis.

An election is pending in which Gutnick will attempt a return.

After last week's loss to Port Adelaide, Daniher clearly sided with the new board by claiming that club politics had disrupted the team.

He called for any election to be postponed until after the season, something that would stifle Gutnick's bid.

Daniher said he was not interested in the Fremantle job.

However, if Gutnick was to return and the ``disruption" continue, perhaps his mind could be changed.

ANCHORS AWAY

Damian Drum, age 40.

Coaching record: Appointed: 1999. Matches 53. Wins 13. Losses 40. Winning percentage 24.5.

Year by year record:

1999: Played 22. Won 5. Lost 17. Position 15th.

2000: Played 22. Won 8. Lost 14. Position 12th.

2001: Played 9. Won 0. Lost 9. Position 16th.

 
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