Damien Hardwick in emotional reveal after staggering AFL move

Richmond's longest serving coach has admitted he didn't have enough left in the tank to see out the 2023 AFL season.

Damien Hardwick speaks at a press conference after announcing he will step down as Richmond coach.
Damien Hardwick revealed he had questioned his motivation to see out the 2023 AFL season, having already decided to step down at season's end. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Damien Hardwick will step down as coach of the Richmond Tigers effective immediately, revealing he believes the time is right for him to walk away. Hardwick won three premierships in his 14 year tenure as Tigers coach, becoming the longest serving coach in club history.

Hardwick was flanked by Tigers CEO Brendon Gale and club president John O’Rourke when he fronted media, after the news he would be stepping down was broken on Monday night. He revealed that he had made the decision not to continue as coach in 2024 earlier in the year, but as the 2023 season wore on he found himself questioning whether he still had the desire to see out the season.

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That sense of unease eventually firmed into a decision to walk away, with Hardwick acknowledging his departure would make what has already been a difficult season for the Tigers even more demanding. However he will be farewelled with immense fondness from the Tigers faithful, with fans thanking him for his work in hauling the club out of the doldrums.

The Tigers broke a 37-year premiership drought under Hardwick when they won in 2017, going on to add two more premierships in 2019 and 2020. The popular coach said it had been a 'tough conversation' to have when telling the club his intention to step down.

“It’s been an incredible ride and one that’s coming to an end. I couldn’t have wished a better place to have my journey as an AFL coach,” Hardwick said.

“It just became a little bit too much for me. It was one of those ones where I sort of made the decision that I wasn’t going to be the coach of Richmond next year.”

Hardwick credited the club for sticking by him after the Tigers missed the finals in 2016 - with their success in the years to follow a massive reward for the faith placed in him. However with the club battling in the middle of the AFL standings over the past two seasons, Hardwick said he had begun to question whether he was still the man for the job.

Damien Hardwick's emotional admission after stepping down

Admitting that consecutive losses had become more difficult to handle after the club's extended run of success since that 2016 season, Hardwick said he had never wanted to stay any longer than what was necessary. Now was the time to leave, Hardwick said, in order to preserve his own love for the sport.

“It just all came a little bit too much for me. I made the decision I wasn’t going to be the coach of Richmond next year," he said. "Once I decided that part of the equation started to slip away then I started to question myself ... as soon as I started to ask the question more, I started to understand what the question was going to be.

“If I couldn’t give 100 per cent, there was no way I was going to coach this football club. Once you’ve had more success, losses become harder, so I had a fair indication at the start of the year that I would like this to be my last year.

Damien Hardwick speaks to Richmond Tigers players during a break between quarters.
Damien Hardwick says he made the decision to retire after the 2023 season ended, but realised he no longer had the drive to continue. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

"As the season didn’t turn out as much as I would have liked I asked myself ‘am I the man for the job?’ I’d rather leave too early than too late...I want to make sure I leave the game loving the game.

“It was time for a different voice. I’ve pushed every button I can and I’ve tried to cook the sausages 1000 ways.”

Longtime assistant coach Andrew McQualter will take over as interim coach for the remainder of the 2023 season. Hardwick was praised for making the decision to walk away now, with Caroline Wilson admitting on Footy Classified that she had initially felt Hardwick was making a selfish decision, before saying it was a move being made in the best interests of the Tigers.

"When I first heard the news, I thought this was a terrible thing he was doing to the Richmond Football Club, to walk away in the middle of the year having made as a collective those big list decisions at the end of the year to trade away early draft picks to bring in two midfielders on long-term contracts, she said. "But now the more I think about it … Damien has done the right thing in walking away now.

“If his heart wasn‘t in it, I don’t want him staying until the end of the year. They’re not going to win the premiership this year, they’re not as good as they thought they were and this will give Brendon Gale, who could well be on the move at the end of the year, Trent Cotchin and potentially Jack Riewoldt – this will give the club time to reassess and find the right group to put in place.”

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