The bombshell news that triple-premiership coach Damien Hardwick is quitting the Richmond Tigers has left the AFL world in a state of disbelief. The extraordinary news dropped on Monday night, with burnout behind Hardwick's shock decision to quit the AFL club with one-and-a-half years left on his contract.
An emotional Hardwick fronted a press conference on Tuesday morning to confirm he was stepping away effective immediately after realising he was no longer able to commit "100 per cent" to the job. Hardwick told a packed media conference at Punt Road on Tuesday that it became apparent to him a couple of weeks ago that the time was right to stand down and let the players "listen to a different voice".
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"I would rather leave too early than too late," he said. Current assistant Andrew McQualter has been appointed as interim coach and will assume the reins for Sunday's clash with Port Adelaide.
Hardwick paid tribute to everyone associated with Richmond - a club he joined in 2010 after a distinguished playing career at Essendon and Port Adelaide and an assistant coaching stint at Hawthorn under his great friend Alastair Clarkson.
"It's a tough gig being an AFL coach but the support I've received from the majority of people has been absolutely outstanding," he said. "The Richmond football club has been the love of my life."
Hardwick cemented his status as one of the club's all-time greats alongside Tom Hafey, having led the Tigers to premierships in 2017, 2019 and 2020. He steps away as the longest-serving coach in Richmond's history, Hardwick's exit has left the AFL world in a state of flux.
AFL 360 co-host Gerard Whateley labelled it “extraordinary news” and "an absolute shock to everyone in footy" when the news broke on Monday night. “The game’s capacity to surprise knows no bounds,” he said. AFL 360 co-host Mark Robinson called Hardwick's decision an “absolute bombshell” and alluded to potential burnout as an explanation behind the 50-year-old's decision.
“This is a bombshell. An absolute bombshell,” Robinson said on AFL 360. “They (Richmond) were a couple of bad decisions away on the weekend from keeping their September finals hopes alive.
“We don’t know the reasons until Damien Hardwick speaks. We’re all just surmising here. He may be burnt out. She’s a tough business AFL coaching.”
Collingwood coach Craig McRae admitted he was "shocked" at the news around Hardwick. McRae worked as an assistant under Hardwick through the 2017-2020 glory years and said his former mentor had coached with "courage" in a job that grinds people down.
"You get tired. You've got to find energy sources," McRae told Fox Footy. "You're constantly trying to find the right balance to find the right energy to give to your playing group.
"You find the energy for your players and then you get home and you're exhausted. Your wife and family want you to find energy too."
AFL world reacts to Damien Hardwick bombshell
Former Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley, who stepped down midway through the 2021 season, wondered whether Hardwick had lost the hunger to continue with Richmond sliding out of premiership contention. The Tigers have won three and drawn one of 10 games this season, having failed to win a final since the 2020 premiership.
"This might be a sign that he doesn't feel like he has the energy to be able to put in, that he's not quite as hungry," Buckley told Fox Footy. "It might only be one or two per cent off. Only he would know exactly what it is. He's the only one who knows how he feels internally."
"Although it's a shock, and the timing is a massive shock, I don't think the players would say it completely blindsided them."
Caroline Wilson gives us the latest on Damien Hardwick's bombshell resignation.#9FootyClassified | @Channel9 pic.twitter.com/nuqfBs6EXI
— Footy on Nine (@FootyonNine) May 22, 2023
"He changed the game in a lot of ways!"
Craig McRae and Matthew Nicks speak on Damien Hardwick's exit from Richmond.
📺 Watch #AFL360 on @Foxtel CH 504 or stream via @kayosports https://t.co/7kvglvquIa pic.twitter.com/4ww5mpTfnT
— Fox Footy (@FOXFOOTY) May 22, 2023
Damien Hardwick has genuinely been life-changing for a generation of Richmond people - fans, players, staff.
It’s moments like these you realise how much your team runs in your blood. How their fortunes make your walk taller or smaller each week. Forever grateful for the ride. pic.twitter.com/T6Pba05mB8
— Mitchell Scott (@MitchellBScott) May 22, 2023
Still in shock.
Can’t believe it’s actually happening.
Thank you doesn’t seem enough for everything you have given us.
But from the bottom of my yellow and black heart, thank you @hardwick_damien pic.twitter.com/KVd0ztEQJQ
— RFC Centre (@RFC_Centre) May 22, 2023
Damien Hardwick exit rocks coaching landscape
It is unclear whether Hardwick will leave his post immediately or coach Richmond against Port Adelaide on Sunday. However, the momentous decision is sure to have a massive flow-on effect in the AFL coaching landscape.
Richmond assistant coach Andrew McQualter will likely take the reins on an interim basis but the club will be keen to move quickly to assess the coaching marketplace. Port Adelaide's Ken Hinkley is out of contract at the end of this season, West Coast's Adam Simpson is under mounting pressure after a horror run and Stuart Dew can hardly afford another year without September action at Gold Coast.
There is also a cloud hanging over North Melbourne, with Alastair Clarkson on indefinite leave from the club. Hinkley, who rejected overtures from Essendon last year, was runner-up to Hardwick for the Richmond job in late 2009 before winning the Power role ahead of the 2013 season. The Port Adelaide coach and Power bosses have repeated that they have put off contract talks until at least August, however, the Hardwick situation could expedite those discussions.
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