NATHAN Buckley has stepped down as Collingwood coach, saying it is time for change and it is the right decision.
Buckley’s future as coach has been at the forefront of speculation with his contract expiring at the end of this season and Collingwood’s form woes in 2021.
The club champion and former skipper will depart after the Queen's Birthday clash against Melbourne.
Speaking to reporters via Zoom on Wednesday, Buckley said he had sensed there was an "appetite for change" at the club.
"I've 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," Buckley said.
NINE MONTHS OF HELL Where did it all go wrong with Pies?
"Everyone has their time, every relationship and every person has their time, and mine has come. I'm really content with the decision that's been reached and I'm pretty confident the club will be in really good shape going forward.
"In the end, over the last couple of weeks in conversations with [football manager Graham Wright], it was clear that there was an appetite for change in the program.
"I could sense that as well. I think my messages on that and the way that I lead, it's established. We had a general sense that it was time for something different and it was time for something new and it was time for something fresh."
NINE MONTHS OF HELL Where did it all go wrong for the Pies?
Buckley said he had "a part" in the final decision and believed it was the right call.
"Nothing lasts forever. I was going to be tapped at some stage, but there's no doubt that this is the best thing for the football club. I've always believed that that's what should happen," he said.
"The question was whether I was up for it and whether the club viewed me as a longer-term person to do it for the next three to five years.
"I can't categorically say that I want to be here for the next five years, for instance. I think that the candidate that the club will end up looking for should be someone who has those fresh eyes and fresh ideas.
"It should be a new person within the group to help it pop again and to help it regenerate. Potentially, when you've been in the seat for 10 years, the mandate or the capacity to do that isn't as great."
Captain Scott Pendlebury admitted his surprise at his coach's call.
"It's a bit of a shock. You come in to train today and that happened so it's definitely a shock. It’s the first time ever in my career that I've been through something like this before. I feel almost a little bit numb," Pendlebury said as the Magpies players left the club following the briefing.
"We planned to have a bit of a chat to the leaders and then the timeline sped up and it was as a full group. He just spoke about how he thinks it is the best thing for the club and no person is bigger than the club and he thinks it is the right time for him to step away.
"He spoke about his gratitude for the place, he's spent half his life here and how excited he is by the future and excited for the opportunities he's had as a player, assistant coach and coach and everything he's contributed to the club."
GET YOUR TICKETS The Big Freeze in Sydney match is on sale NOW
Pendlebury also confirmed that assistant coach Robert Harvey has been named the Pies' caretaker coach for the rest of the season.
The decision comes midway through Buckley's 10th season at the helm of Collingwood, a period through which he has coached the Pies for 217 games for a winning record of 54 per cent.
He steered the Magpies to their Grand Final defeat to West Coast in 2018 and again to the preliminary final in 2019 before last season making the semi-finals.
The Pies have dropped to the bottom rungs of the ladder this season after a dramatic off-season that saw the club jettison three players – Adam Treloar, Jaidyn Stephenson and Tom Phillips – due to salary cap woes and also reveal the club's internal Do Better report stemming from systemic racism at the club.
Buckley put on the agenda the possibility of walking away from coaching Collingwood in a pre-season interview with AFL.com.au.
"Our performances this year, no doubt, are going to have a say on what is best for the club going forward," he said in March.
"I don't feel like I have to be the senior coach going forward if that's the best thing for the club and I feel that I can still impact and help the club move towards contending consistently and winning flags well then I'll put my hand up."
Buckley said last year's dramatic Trade Period and the loss of star players, including gun midfielder Adam Treloar, undoubtedly contributed to his demise.
"We got flogged by Geelong last year in the last game … we had to drop a few players and Geelong brought in Shaun Higgins, Jeremy Cameron and Isaac Smith," Buckley said.
"There's a fair contrast in those two list changes. To argue differently would be folly. There are different ebbs and flows throughout within seasons, let alone between seasons, so there's no doubt (the list changes) have an impact in the short-term."
But he said the football club now had a golden opportunity to start afresh and build a new future.
"I think the slate's now as clean as it can possibly be. A new president, a new football manager, a soon-to-be interim coach and you'll have a new senior coach at the beginning of 2022.
"There's a lot of fundamentals within the club that are in good shape. Right now, it's just an opportunity for change and an opportunity to start fresh and new. Hopefully, that will continue the momentum of the connection and belief of the playing group."
SO WHAT IS NEXT FOR NATHAN BUCKLEY?
"It's blue skies for me. I really don't know what I will do. If I'm going to leave with my options open, that's probably a wise decision for anyone out there," Buckley said.
"I don't know (if I will coach again). Graham Wright and I consolidated this decision on Monday, so far as when I would stop coaching this year … it's still really raw.
"My overwhelming emotion is one of gratitude, I'm really thankful to the football club for the support received and the people I've shared this journey with. I am quite content that the decision is the right one. It's not just the right one for the football club, it's the right one for me in this present moment. I look forward to whatever the rest of my life has to bring in a professional and a personal sense, to be honest.
"I know whatever I do in the future, it will be with 100 per cent commitment and with everything that I've got. If coaching is on the radar, I still haven't consolidated that thought now."
Tickets for the Big Freeze in Sydney match are on sale now. Get your tickets HERE. The famous blue Big Freeze beanies are still available from Coles, Coles Express, Bunnings or fightmnd.org.au, while donations can be made at fightmnd.org.au.