IN HIRING David Noble, North Melbourne looked to a steady head.
He was the former football boss who had helped turn around rough situations at both Adelaide and Brisbane, left both clubs as genuine premiership contenders, and would bring his expertise and experience to a side in need of a long-term presence.
But just 478 days after coaching his first AFL game, Noble leaves and the Kangaroos are on shakier ground than ever in recent memory. The club faces the prospect of a second wooden spoon in successive years, an exodus of talent, and with gaping holes in its football department still needing to be filled.
'FAILED TO LIVE UP TO EXPECTATIONS' Noble, North part ways
There might have been schisms in the way Noble, and those already at North Melbourne, viewed the situation and state of the club's list when he arrived. In most ways, this was no quick fix. Barely 24 hours after its 2020 season ended, with Noble not yet even hired, it cut 11 players – including long-term stalwarts like Jamie Macmillan, Majak Daw, Jasper Pittard, Ben Jacobs and Mason Wood – from its playing group.
And yet, on the day Noble was appointed, then-chairman Ben Buckley dropped the bombshell that the Kangaroos had hired him on the premise of returning the club back to premiership contention within "two to three years".
That discrepancy in opinion over whether Noble would have, or was given enough time to succeed was evident again when Noble departed on Tuesday. Asked at his departing press conference whether 38 games was long enough to judge a rebuild, he replied: "Probably not. Not in my experience."
Surely the club would have known that some tough times would follow Noble's arrival? But as tough as five wins in 38 games, 11 straight defeats by more than 47 points, 14 consecutive losses overall and the near-certain prospect of a second wooden spoon in successive years? Clearly not, as it came to the decision to end his tenure on Monday night.
That choice came after a dismal on-field period. Having won just one of his first 13 games in charge last year, some brighter times followed. There was great optimism to be found in the back half of last season, as youngsters like Tarryn Thomas, Nick Larkey, Tom Powell and Luke Davies-Uniacke emerged as genuine guns and No.1 pick Jason Horne-Francis was welcomed to the football club after a stellar junior season at South Adelaide.
This year, that optimism has evaporated rapidly. Not just the sheer number of defeats, but the manner of them, led to a post-match spray from Noble earlier this season – which was walked back via an apology to the playing group – in an unwelcome distraction for all at the football club. It was always a long way back from that moment.
A mix of the distractions and the defeats have led to the widespread unrest permeating throughout the playing group. Thomas, as well as fellow high-profile recruit Jaidyn Stephenson, have been dropped at different stages throughout the year. The future of Horne-Francis has been hotly debated, having not yet extended beyond his initial two-year deal, while uncontracted forward Cam Zurhaar is another to have delayed talks. Rivals think that Thomas and key defender Ben McKay, although both are contracted, could look elsewhere this off-season.
IS CLARKO NEXT? North begins hunt for fourth coach since 2019
Although the club's president, Dr Sonja Hood, said player unrest didn't contribute to Noble's downfall, she did offer that "general club happiness and satisfaction was one of the things we considered" in coming to its decision to part ways with the senior coach.
Questions have also been raised on team decisions. McKay, the side's best key defender, recently spent a fortnight playing as a key forward. It was two games where opposition players Taylor Walker, Darcy Fogarty, Jeremy Cameron and Tom Hawkins combined for 20 goals at the other end. Where has recruit Callum Coleman-Jones been? The midfield minutes of youngsters like Powell and Thomas have been eaten up by veteran free agency signing Hugh Greenwood.
Noble, a man backed to steer the club through a rebuild that had been planned from before he arrived – and, indeed, backed publicly by his own CEO just six weeks ago – didn't even last two seasons in charge as a result. He has hardly been the steadying head the Kangaroos had hoped for.
The off-field position of the club is just as concerning. Just last month, it entered the NAB AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft without three important members of its list management team – national recruiting manager Mark Finnigan, head of player personnel Glenn Luff and national recruiting officer Ben Birthisel – after all three resigned in the days leading up to an event where the Kangaroos had the No.2 selection. Some left their post having cited a lack of support from above.
The club then appointed Geoff Walsh to lead a review of its football department. It is now his second review of a football department that has ultimately ended in the termination of a senior coach in barely 10 months, having also presided over the review that led to the sacking of Carlton's David Teague last August. Just last week, Noble said he had only had "limited conversation" with Walsh.
CEO Ben Amarfio's position at the helm has also come under scrutiny, although Hood reiterated strongly on Tuesday that he would remain at the club for 2023 and beyond.
BOARD UPHEAVAL? Ex-North officials consider push for change
And so, on Tuesday, the first steps in North Melbourne appointing its fourth full-time senior coach in five seasons will begin in earnest. They will occur following the departures of Brad Scott in 2019, Rhyce Shaw in 2020 and now Noble in 2022.
Whoever the candidates are, they might find they have just as many questions for the hierarchy of this football club than is being asked of them in return. Because, for all of the criticisms that can justifiably be pointed at Noble for a tumultuous campaign at Arden Street, just as many can be directed at the decision-makers at North Melbourne.