Nathan Buckley will leave Collingwood Football Club midway through the AFL season as the winds of change continue to sweep through the club. The coach’s imminent exit was confirmed at a press conference on Wednesday morning, after the club’s football department and playing staff were informed earlier in the day.
His last game in charge, in his 10th season at the helm, will be on Monday in the Queen’s birthday clash against ladder leaders Melbourne at the SCG, and the search for a permanent replacement to take over in time for the 2022 season will begin in due course.
“Over the last couple of weeks in conversations with Graham [Wright, the club’s general manager] it was clear that there was an appetite for change in the program, and I could sense that as well,” Buckley said.
“Nothing lasts forever. I was going to be tapped at some stage. But there is no doubt that this is the best thing for the football club and I have always believed that that is what should happen.”
It brings to an end months of speculation about his future, following a disappointing start to the season that has seen his side win just three times in 12 outings. That poor form has left the Pies languishing in 16th place on the ladder.
“We have not performed as we would like to in the early stage of this season,” Buckley said. “I have had nine-and-a-half years at the helm after two years as an assistant coach in 2010 and 2011, so I’ve had a fair crack at it.
“Everyone has their time, every relationship at present has its time and mine has come. I don’t really contend with the decision that has been reached and I am confident that the club will be in good shape going forward.”
Collingwood chief executive Mark Anderson said it was an “important and sad day” for the club while paying tribute to Buckley’s contribution to the Magpies over the years.
“We will find the right time to honour and respect his amazing legacy to the club,” Anderson said. “He is a towering figure and legend of the club and we will respect that and provide our members and fans that opportunity of respecting that as well.”
The club had previously stated a decision on the 48-year-old’s future would be left until the end of the season. But Buckley, who has been in charge of the Pies since taking over from Mick Malthouse in 2012, becomes the second of Collingwood’s major figureheads to leave the club this year, following the departure of former president Eddie McGuire in February.
“I would’ve been happy to coach the year out if that’s what the club needed and wanted and we felt that’s what was best, but ultimately coaching this weekend and then stepping out is another opportunity for new growth, for new energies and new voices,” Buckley said. “That’s the opportunity that should happen as soon as that decision is made.”
Anderson said a panel would be set up shortly and tasked with finding a permanent replacement to take the reins ahead of next season, with a “range of people” to be considered. In the meantime, Buckley’s long-term assistant coach Robert Harvey will take over on an interim basis.
The latest departure from the Magpies comes amid turbulent times for the embattled club. Uncertainty hovers at boardroom level as McGuire’s replacement, Mark Korda, faces a leadership challenge from former Nine Network managing director Jeff Browne. Korda was only installed as president in April, following the resignation of McGuire.
McGuire stepped down from his post after facing mounting pressure in the wake of the Do Better report into systemic racism at the club, commissioned following claims from former player Héritier Lumumba that a culture of racist jokes existed at the club. Buckley was widely criticised for his handling of the situation at the time.
The club also came under fire earlier this year for its botched trade period dealings before the start of the current season. Asked if the recent turmoil had worn him down, Buckley said: “They do have an impact. When you are invested in a place, when it can do better as an organisation, and when the opinion of it is not positive, that can weigh you down.
“There has been an enormous amount of change in this football club in the last six months, with the backdrop of a really weird environment with Covid. The last six months has been as weird as you would wish to see or be a part of.”
Buckley spent nearly three decades at Collingwood, first as a player then as a coach. He played 260 matches, winning six Copeland Trophies, Brownlow and Norm Smith medals and seven All-Australian blazers, captaining the club for nine seasons before retiring in 2007. He returned as assistant coach two years later before assuming the top job in 2012. In total, he took charge of 217 matches, taking his side to five finals campaigns and the 2018 grand final.