After four years at the helm, it would be fair to say Don Pyke’s tenure at the Adelaide Crows was a rollercoaster ride.
The coach departed the club yesterday with two years remaining on his contract, feeling he was not part of the solution to the Crows’ woes.
Appointed in 2016 in the aftermath of the tragic death of Phil Walsh, Pyke was charged with leading the club after winning 13 games and making a semi-final in 2015.
In his first two seasons the Crows set the AFL world alight with their lightning quick ball movement, fast becoming an offensive juggernaut in an era of declining scoring and strangling defences.
They were an exception to the rule of the day, leading the AFL in scoring in both 2016 and 2017 and rampaging their way to the 2017 grand final.
They blitzed opposing sides with a combination of speed, precision and a dynamic forward line, including then-captain Taylor Walker, Eddie Betts, Josh Jenkins and the since departed Charlie Cameron and Mitch McGovern.
While the grand final appearance was the high point in Pyke’s tenure, it also appears to have proved its turning point.
The Crows simply failed to deal with the pressure placed on them, both by the occasion and by the manic Richmond opposition, thumped by 48 points in the decider.
It was a blow from which the team never recovered.
Next came the much-discussed and ill-fated pre-season camp on the Gold Coast which proved, as chairman Rob Chapman has described it, an ongoing distraction.
“I can’t deny that that camp has not had an impact on our football club,” Chapman told ABC Radio Adelaide.
“At the very least it has been a huge distraction and sucked oxygen out of our football club.”
The Crows languished in 2018 to slip out of the finals and collapsed after the round 14 bye this year, looking listless and slow — slumping to lose seven of their last nine games to finish 11th.
As Pyke acknowledged yesterday, he was not the sole problem at West Lakes.
More telling was his admission he did not feel he could be part of the solution.
Expectation and scrutiny a double-edged sword
In his press conference yesterday, Pyke referenced the environment within the sport becoming more difficult to deal with.
“The landscape we now operate in is as an industry is more challenging than ever for players, administrators, boards, coaches, and this is leading to a wide range of issues around contentment,” he said.
“I hope in the future we can find a better balance in how we view the game regardless of the result, otherwise I do fear for people’s genuine love [of football].”
In a week in which the code has dealt with the loss of the universally-admired Danny Frawley, that point becomes even more pertinent.
In a two-team state the focus on the Crows is relentless, and the constant pressure draining, as Pyke put it.
Adelaide holds lofty expectations for both of its AFL sides, whether it be because of the remarkable winning history of Port Adelaide or the sheer powerhouse status the Crows hold within the competition.
The expectation and scrutiny is a double-edged sword.
It drives high standards and at its best can help build a winning culture.
At its worst, it can cause a lack of perspective regarding results.
For now, Pyke may be the source of frustration for Crows fans.
In time, he should be remembered as a terrific servant of the football club.
One who took over in an unimaginably tough period, guided it almost to the ultimate success and then could not replicate those deeds.
Plenty try and fail to get anywhere near that far.
Pyke said yesterday he will take time with family and friends to assess his options before deciding his future moves, but indicated he still felt he could play a role in football.
Who could be in line for Crows’ top job?
All this begs the question, what’s next for the Crows?
Chapman told ABC Radio Adelaide the club would act quickly to find its next coach, forming a panel as soon as Monday.
“Andrew and I spoke briefly about that last night, I would expect Mark Ricciuto who is head of our football department — has been for four years — to be part of that,” he said.
“I would expect Andrew Fagan would be a part of it. I’d like another board member, and personally I would like an external person as well, perhaps someone who’s not based here in South Australia that’s a bit closer to the eastern seaboard.”
Perhaps Adelaide would be in a difficult situation attempting to find a new coach while the club’s external review is ongoing.
However, the cost of staying still in the rapid-fire AFL landscape can be far more significant.
Pyke’s tenure may have come to a premature end, but as Chapman pointed out, the club’s recent track record in its past two coaching searches is strong.
The names of Norwood product and current Hawthorn assistant Scott Burns, former Crows defender and Essendon assistant Ben Rutten and Greater Western Sydney assistant Matthew Nicks have all been mentioned in the coaching rumour mill.
Other names, such as Michael Voss and even departed Fremantle coach Ross Lyon may be raised as well.
Whoever the new coach is, they will be entering an environment of change, both off the field and on it.
Several Crows players face uncertain futures, with veteran ruckman Sam Jacobs, midfielder Hugh Greenwood and much-improved defender Alex Keath among those players to have been linked to rival clubs.
The press conference in which former best and fairest winner Richard Douglas departed the club gave light to the fact that a greater focus may be placed on youth.
When you assess the challenges ahead, the next coach of the Adelaide Football Club will have to steady the ship, perhaps preaching patience rather than being expected to emulate the early deeds of their predecessor.