Caroline Wilson says Damien Hardwick “risks tarnishing his legacy” after leaving his wife and starting a new relationship with a club staff member.
Richmond coach Hardwick confirmed in December that he had split with wife Danielle, with whom he has three children.
The club has since given the tick of approval to the 48-year-old’s new relationship with a member of Richmond’s administration staff, widely reported to be Alexandra Crow.
‘SYSTEMIC RACISM’: Bombshell review findings at Collingwood
‘SHEER JOY’: Footy fans melt over 'beautiful' AFLW moment
But despite the club finding Hardwick’s new romance hasn’t breached any rules, veteran AFL journo Wilson reckons the saga might have more wide-reaching ramifications.
Writing in an opinion piece for The Age on Sunday, Wilson said Hardwick’s legacy as a three-time premiership coach is now at risk, claiming he will have difficulties retaining his authority over Tigers players.
Wilson reported that the relationship only came to light after Hardwick was questioned by club CEO Brendon Gale, writing: “the power imbalance between Crow and Hardwick is stark.”
“His actions alone have placed his board, his executive and even his captain in dreadfully difficult positions,” she wrote.
Wilson further elaborated on ABC program ‘Offsiders’ on Sunday.
“In a workplace sense, this is a senior and junior colleague who embark upon an affair, probably cover it up - certainly cover it up,” Wilson said.
“At the very least, it was not reported to human resources or anyone senior at the club until the rumours became so strong that the question was asked by the CEO of the coach.
“I’m sorry, but we did see two AFL executives lose their jobs over a similar incident (in 2017). Don’t tell me it’s different, because it’s not.
“Don’t tell me they are in different departments because the coach has an all-encompassing influence over the whole club.
“Quite simply on an active football sense this is a man who created a personal brand out of his partner, Mrs Hardwick.
“She became his moral compass, and I just reckon a lot of people at the club feel duped, the public feel duped, the supporters feel duped.
“And if Trent Cotchin is suspended for three weeks in May or another player hides something and it comes out later, I think it’s going to be difficult for Damien Hardwick to tell these boys that they’ve let down the team.”
‘Offsiders’ host Kelli Underwood agreed, saying: “I just can’t understand when he put his head on the pillow at night how he possibly would have thought that this could play out for him. It’s got to have an effect internally.”
Damien Hardwick addresses furore with players
Last month Richmond vice-captain Jack Riewoldt said he was confident the situation will not have any impact on the playing group.
Before players returned for pre-season training, Hardwick addressed with them his recent marriage and new relationship.
Hardwick opted to return at the same time as the senior players after initially flagging late last year that he would enjoy an extended off-season break.
“Damien's a good enough character to separate his personal life and his professional life,” Riewoldt said.
“The last four years have shown that he's been arguably the best coach in the land and he'll continue to support us and we'll continue to support him over the next period of time.
“It's hard to say early on, but we're back into it and he seemed really strong, so we're excited to get out and train.”
Riewoldt admitted Hardwick’s relationship situation had taken the players by surprise as they prepared to embark on another premiership defence.
“You never predict something like this but these things happen in peoples' lives and we just move on,” Riewoldt said.
“It's obviously sad that ‘Dimma’ and Danielle's marriage has come to an end because Dimma's obviously been a big part of our football club and the Hardwick family's been a massive support network for us.
“They'll continue to be a support network for us, as we will for them.”
Richmond previously released a statement declaring the new relationship is not in breach of club policy.
“The club is aware that coach Damien Hardwick is currently in a relationship with a member of the club's administration staff,” the statement read.
“The club has no concerns with this under club policy.
“Beyond this, it is a private matter and we ask that privacy be respected.”
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.