NATHAN Buckley had sensed this was coming. And he was ready for it, too.
"Transition is tough, and managing that is difficult as well," Buckley said. "And the senior coach has a significant responsibility and has significant ownership of key decisions. But it is inevitable."
Those words weren't uttered this week. No instead, they came in pre-season, long before Collingwood's 2021 campaign had become an arduous slog and each weekend had become a referendum on Bucks' ongoing tenure in one of footy's biggest jobs. Right there in that moment every possibility was still on the table but the Pies' head coach was bordering on prescient, seemingly seeing the looming change on the horizon when he sat down ahead of the season with the AFL.com.au team for the new video series, The Art of Coaching.
This was the post-2017 version of Bucks in full view. Candid and personable, he described a scene from his club's pre-season, one of reflection that rings so relevant now half a season later. "There's transition every day," Buckley said. "We had the whole football program on the sprung floor a couple of weeks ago and made the point that at some stage all of us standing here will be gone and we'll be replaced by another 80 or 90 individuals that will be here, in the same environment, but the people will inevitably change, constantly. So our challenge is to give our best and to represent the club and ourselves as best we possibly can right now, and then hopefully leave a legacy of how to go about it and what type of environment we would like our future selves to actually be a part of."
Buckley of course was speaking of the big picture, of one's body of work over time, of legacy in the broadest sense. But macro sentiments can also have practical application on a micro level, and in a sense that's how Buckley now departs.
A month ago it was hard to tell if the environment at Collingwood was one that any future selves would like to be a part of. A timid loss to Sydney in round nine had come not long after that showing against the Suns at the MCG, the day Collingwood's footy appeared to crater. Suddenly, though, the picture looks different.
Consecutive tight tussles with top-four candidates in the Power and the Cats have been followed by stirring wins on the road, the first in Adelaide and the second in Bucks' final game in charge against the league-leading Demons in Sydney.
Despite calling time on his own tenure last week, Buckley was evidently determined to adhere to those standards he'd spoken of, right until the very end. He signs off with his Pies showing new dare with the footy and heightened ferocity at the contest, adding a new layer or two and building upon the defensive structure that had been quietly growing in the weeks before despite the unrest around him.
There's now something there again, something for his replacement to work with. Although the inevitable transition has arrived, Buckley was ready. The team he leaves behind has a template to take forward, for "how to go about it".
The Art of Coaching is an exclusive series with the AFL's 18 coaches sharing their trade secrets and coaching philosophies, helping us delve into the minds of some of the best analytical thinkers our game has seen. It will be released episodically over the coming weeks