Justin Longmuir and Matthew Nicks. Picture: AFL Photos

THE START of the 2024 season has shown how quickly and dramatically external coaching narratives can shift and how clubs are increasingly opting for clarity, rather than fanning the flames of uncertainty in the cut-throat world of modern coaching.

Fremantle coach Justin Longmuir and Adelaide's Matthew Nicks, whose teams meet at Optus Stadium on Friday night, are the most recent two senior coaches to have their contracts extended beyond 2024, with each signing a new deal in the past fortnight.

Both men are coaches of young teams who face an increasing expectation to become regular finalists and, in the Dockers' case, returning finalists after the club spiked in 2022 and won an elimination final.

The announcements were met with different external reactions, with Longmuir's one-year extension for 2025 criticised, while Nicks' deal to the end of 2026 was widely viewed as a formality.

The reason for this is likely the narrative of external pressure that had built around Longmuir and Fremantle during the pre-season, despite the Dockers themselves growing increasingly confident that they were ready to rebound after a lacklustre 12 months.

After Fremantle officials had noted issues with their ability to handle expectations, adjusting to new player leadership, a young list profile, and the loss of important staff and players during a 10-win 2023, the pressure narrative that built outside the club was never mirrored internally, according to sources, with the Dockers board confident for some time that it had the right coach.

Justin Longmuir during Fremantle's official team photo day at Cockburn ARC on January 16, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

The Dockers' 2-0 start to 2024, with comeback wins full of character against Brisbane and North Melbourne, suggests their instincts were right and signing the coach before round one has allowed him to do the job to the best of his ability. The unbeaten start has also silenced the doubters - at least for now.

At Adelaide, there was far from the same level of external scrutiny leading into 2024 as Nicks and the Crows worked through a new deal.

Like Fremantle, the Crows were long confident that they had the right coach to see through the next stage of their build, and believed that announcing the extension when they did would also give Nicks the best chance to succeed.

Matthew Nicks with Adelaide players during their 2024 team photo day at West Lakes. Picture: AFL Photos

Unlike Fremantle, however, the Crows have had a disappointing start to the season and will enter Friday night 0-2, meaning the club's decision to re-sign its coach is only now coming under much public scrutiny.

With games against Melbourne, Carlton and Essendon to come after this weekend, the Crows will be desperate to see a return on their investment soon, and will no doubt argue the stability the new contract has given Nicks is more important than ever as he looks to right the ship.

AFL Coaches Association boss Alistair Nicholson uses Carlton and its coach Michael Voss in 2023 as an example of why the stability of a contract is so crucial. With four wins and a draw from 13 rounds last year, there were calls for Carlton to part ways with Voss after just one-and-a-half seasons. But with a contract already in place for the following season, he led the club to nine straight wins and a preliminary final against Brisbane, falling 16 points short of what would have been the the Blues' first Grand Final appearance since 1999.

"Where there can be some stability and a decrease in speculation for a senior coach, that is really important to let them get on with what they're doing. Because it is a really tough role the way that the competition is structured," Nicholson told AFL.com.au this week.


"The competition is really equal, and teams are going to be going up and down at different stages of the year.

"If we look at Michael Voss last year, the speculation on him early in the season, and then how they went through to a preliminary final, shows how a team's fortunes can go up and down through a season.

"So, the ability for those clubs to secure their coaches allows them to get on with what they're doing, and that's really important."

The alternative strategy was put forward by Port Adelaide last season, when Ken Hinkley and the club agreed to delay any contract talks until August as the Power looked to respond after a disappointing 2022. It was a unique case that worked for Port and Hinkley as they finished in the top four, although the coach's deep roots at the club that stretch back more than a decade meant he naturally had more stability in the role compared to relative newcomers  Voss, Longmuir and Nicks.

Regardless, chairman David Koch still acknowledged the value of stability when announcing the coach's new deal.

"We believe confirming Ken's contract extension now provides our football program with confidence and certainty heading into an exciting finals campaign," he said at the time.

Ken Hinkley chats to his team during the AAMI Community Series match between Port Adelaide and Fremantle at Alberton Oval on March 1, 2024. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

Nevertheless, the Hinkley case stands as an outlier in recent years. Even clubs that have had acrimonious splits with their coaches in recent seasons, like Gold Coast with Stuart Dew and St Kilda with Brett Ratten, did so not long after agreeing to terms on a new deal.

The Longmuir and Nicks extensions have left all 18 coaches with deals beyond 2024 in a period of potential stability following multiple senior coach changes in each of the past three seasons, including four in 2022.

While not at the level coaches would ideally like, the landscape has also adjusted to allow them to negotiate for more security in new contracts after the AFL expanded its guidelines around payout clauses as part of wider soft-cap changes late last year.

While previous guidelines stipulated six-month payouts for coaches at clubs who were reliant on AFL funding, coaches can now negotiate 12-month payout clauses or longer. Similar clauses for assistant and development coaches have been expanded from one-to-three months up to six months.


It is a change Longmuir hinted at when explaining how his one-year extension offered more security given he had also re-negotiated his 2024 terms with the club.

"You can go beyond 12 months, but you then need to work through that with the AFL. It's a guideline," Nicholson said of the payout clauses.

"So, there's an ability for clubs if they choose to have a bit more flexibility with those clauses to give a little bit more stability for coaches.

"That will take some time to filter through the industry, but that was something that was seen as really impacting the mental health and health of coaches.

"Clubs are looking at the person and the overall culture they want, rather than just the shortest clause from a financial point of view."

Fremantle and Adelaide each made the decision that they had the right person in charge and the right culture building.

While their coaches' contracts have both been questioned at different times, and the jury remains out just two games into the new season, both clubs clearly believe stability rather than uncertainty is the best way to achieve success.