MAX Bailey was coach of Box Hill when COVID-19 struck last year, living the "coaching life" of early mornings and late nights as he balanced his VFL duties and development role with Hawthorn.

The Hawks' 2013 premiership ruckman knew pretty quickly when the pandemic hit that his job was in jeopardy, and he was officially stood down when the VFL season was called off, becoming one of almost 60 coaches at AFL clubs who eventually lost their jobs in 2020.

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Bailey, who had impressed in his five seasons as an assistant with Richmond and Hawthorn, started investigating his options, which included staying involved in coaching if he could.

But he was open to a new life outside the AFL and has since landed on his feet in a human resources role with Bunnings, drawing on a Bachelor of Business and the teaching skills developed as a coach.

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Making the decision to leave coaching, which delivers job satisfaction that is hard to match for most who do it, was the hard part. 

"The biggest fear was stepping out of the footy environment where you're a team and all genuinely pushing in the same direction and going into corporate where, only based off things I'd heard, it was the complete opposite," Bailey told

"My fear was I wasn't going to enjoy that environment.

"I think that's why I've enjoyed Bunnings, because it's almost like a footy club in the sense that everyone I've had any connection with so far, they're genuinely willing to help anyone.

"They enjoy the place and are passionate about what they do, and I've found everyone is pushing in the same direction, like a footy club."

Bailey is one of several coaches who have left AFL clubs and found employment in a new industry following the significant cuts to the soft cap on football department spending, which includes coaching salaries.

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Among them, former Gold Coast assistant Dean Solomon left the industry for at least 12 months and has started a gym, while former Melbourne head of development Matt Egan is now head of football at Xavier College.     

Gold Coast assistant coach Dean Solomon speaks to Izak Rankine in round six, 2020. Picture: AFL Photos

Bailey's story, however, has similarities with that of James Kelly, who recently left his role as assistant coach at Essendon to look after his two sons on a full-time basis.

For Bailey, looking after his 13-month-old daughter, Georgia, full-time during 2020 opened his eyes to life outside coaching.

"Once I'd had a month off, I was just able to be at home, look after Georgia, cook dinner … I really enjoyed that," the 34-year-old said.

"So, it was at that time where I thought, 'I'm not prepared to give that up again.'

"That's when I made a decision it's not going to be footy then, because that's what footy requires of you.

"My priority was time with my family. I get a bit embarrassed that it wasn't a priority before, but it is now and that's been a big lesson for me."

Hawthorn ruckman Max Bailey tackles Port Adelaide's Chad Wingard in round 16, 2013. Picture: AFL Photos

The notion of wanting to prioritise family above football is emphasised for Bailey because of the "season of life" he is in, starting a young family with wife Rachel.

His love for coaching remains and he will scratch the itch as coach of Ormond's under-19s team in the VAFA this season.

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"I had this debate in my own head for a lot of last year. Is it better to step out completely or better to stay involved?" Bailey said.

"It still is a passion of mine to work with guys in football and I'm enjoying the fact it's more than just football.

"It's young kids who some are still in school, some are out of school, and they have all sorts of playing ability … so it's the life aspect as well."

The rest of Hawthorn's stood-down coaching panel from 2020 have found new roles in the wider AFL industry.

Damian Carroll (Collingwood), Marco Bello (Adelaide) and Torin Baker (Carlton) have stayed in coaching, while Brett Deledio is a player manager with Mac's Sports Promotions.  

All wanted to remain involved in football, and Bailey was thrilled for the group, who provided great support in 2020.

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After confronting what life would be like outside the industry, he said he was relieved to find job satisfaction elsewhere after 15 years as a player and coach. 

He said 2020 had been a "blessing in disguise" with an important lesson.

"The thing that the past 12 months has taught me is that the skills you have and learn as a coach are more transferable than what I’d previously thought," Bailey said.  

"Teaching, teamwork, resilience, communication, and managing people are applicable and advantageous in other lines of work.

"I’d love to go back and spend more energy focusing on these skills than I did on getting degrees or accreditations."