Essendon's failed pursuit of Alastair Clarkson has lead to accusations the Bombers have treated their existing coach Ben Rutten poorly amid a tumultuous week for the club.
The Bombers had launched a late campaign to woo Clarkson to the club, but the four-time premiership coach was instead announced as North Melbourne coach on Friday morning.
While the Kangaroos had been in talks with Clarkson for some months following the sacking of David Noble back in July, the Bombers launched an audacious attempt to lure the Hawthorn great to Windy Hill after club president Paul Brasher was abruptly replaced by David Barham earlier in the week.
The late bid to win Clarkson's services came despite Rutten being contracted for 2023 - leaving him in a position many AFL observers have labelled 'untenable' and sparking outrage among Bombers fans.
Notably, Rutten's manager and former Essendon player Adam Ramanauskas publicly denounced the club's treatment of the coach in an interview on TSN Radio.
Ramanauskas said Rutten began the week believing he either had been or would be sacked, but heard nothing from the club only to then learn of their interest in Clarkson.
“I think it’s been really disappointing the way it’s unfolded. You’ve got to look at the human side ... the behaviour and the way he’s been treated is fundamentally not right,” he said.
“Whether that’s Ben Rutten or another senior coach, we’ve got to understand there’s only 18 of these jobs available in the country, it’s a very high-pressure job. The way you treat these individuals is critical to the success at your football club.
“I just think the way and the manner in which it’s been handled has been poor.”
Ramanauskas was far from alone in his criticism, with many fans and reporters taking aim at the Bombers on social media.
Essendon’s board coup has failed to deliver Clarkson, and left Rutten in an untenable position. Shambolic going into trade period.
I feel for Xavier Campbell too. I presume tactfully he scoped out this Clarkson option weeks ago.
Their next move will be interesting. Hird?
— Tom Browne (@TomBrowne7) August 19, 2022
At what point do you say Essendon may have breached a duty of care for Rutten’s mental wellbeing as an employee of the club? Sack him if you want but a week of uncertainty amid constant media speculation is pretty shitty. https://t.co/GAQSxi9ilC
— lavender baj (@lavosaurus) August 19, 2022
In some ways it's probably better that we didn't get Clarko. Essendon has needed root and branch reform for a while now, perhaps this will be the catalyst for it to happen. #GoDons
— Ian Hume (@Kyptastic1) August 19, 2022
“There have been 7000 days since they’ve won a final and there will be 7000 till they win another.” That was the second caller. The first, from an Essendon fan: “GET RID OF THE BLOODY LOT OF THEM!”
— Adam Collins (@collinsadam) August 19, 2022
We as Essendon members deserve more transparency. This week proves the club is dysfunctional. Communication is poor. No one knows what is happening.
— David (@AFLNow) August 19, 2022
As for Essendon, “laughing stock” doesn’t do them justice. Actively pursuing Clarkson while Rutten was still in the job , then failing to get their man. I can’t recall a more awkward or undignified situation. Words fail me
— Ronny Lerner (@RonnyLerner) August 18, 2022
The Bombers' last flag came back in 2000 and they have failed to win a final since 2004.
Ramanauskas said Rutten deserved an explanation and some certainty from the club.
“It needs to be clear communication, and that comes from senior leaders at a football club. Ben is still under contract, Ben’s still got another 12 months remaining on his contract, but the club has openly said they're speaking to another senior coach,” he said.
“Three weeks ago they said publicly he’s their coach. I’m not sure how that’s fair that you’re treating a person in this manner.
“A lot of people will say, ‘the club has got to be ruthless’ — that’s fine, but communicate with people if you’re going to go down this path. Have a clear plan set out.”
Essendon fans furious over treatment of Ben Rutten
Clarkson had earlier described the situation as "quite embarrassing" and said he had "enormous respect" for caretaker North Melbourne coach Leigh Adams and the Rutten.
"With the situation around 'Truck' (Rutten), he's still got a year of his contract to run and it's quite embarrassing being the centre of attention in a situation that is just so difficult for both him and his club," Clarkson told Ten News on Thursday, the night before he was announced as North Melbourne coach.
"I'd prefer to be able to get off the back page, and I know full well that this circus will all end once I can make a decision, one way or another.
"The sooner I can do that, the better."
Ramanauskas said it had been a difficult week for Rutten, who remains uncertain about his future with the club.
Despite the upheaval at board level, Ramanauskas said Rutten had no plans on walking away from the team.
“It’s fair to say Monday and probably half of Tuesday were pretty difficult days because no one was telling him what was going on," he said.
“He was reading on Monday that he’s been sacked. There was nobody telling him otherwise, which is a really hard situation for anyone to be in.
“He was calling a lot of people and wasn’t getting much response back at that stage.
“That’s what I’m talking about — the communication and the how the club behaves — they’ve got to line up.”
The 54-year-old Clarkson will start with North on November 1, taking over from interim coach Leigh Adams.
"This is a real watershed moment for our club and I am writing to share it with members first - we'll talk to media later today, but for now this is a moment for all of us," Kangaroos president Sonja Hood said in a statement.
"I can't speak highly enough of the professionalism of Alastair and his manager James Henderson over this past four weeks.
"We've had a crash course in getting to know each other and Alastair's passion to drive our club back to where we belong is incredibly infectious.
"Today is a good day. Alastair's coming home - to our home."
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