Damien Hardwick announces his resignation as coach of Richmond on May 23, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

TRIPLE Richmond premiership coach Damien Hardwick had decided 2023 would be his final season in charge of the Tigers after watching The Last Dance over summer, before realising a fortnight ago that his time at Punt Road was up. 

The 50-year-old shocked the football world on Monday when he informed the Richmond Football Club board that he was quitting as senior coach after 14 years, effective immediately, despite having 18 months to run on his contract. 

The Tigers have won only three games this season and fell to a one-point loss in Saturday night's Dreamtime at the 'G clash against Essendon


Hardwick was appointed as Terry Wallace's replacement in August 2009 and guided Richmond to its first premiership in 37 years in 2017 after almost losing his job 12 months earlier, before leading the Tigers to three flags across four seasons in the most successful period in the club's 138-year history. 

After playing in a premiership for Essendon in 2000 and Port Adelaide in 2004, Hardwick ends his time at Richmond as the longest-serving coach in the history of the club after coaching them 307 times. 

Assistant coach Andrew McQualter will take over as interim senior coach as the Tigers embark on their search for Hardwick's replacement. 

An emotional Hardwick explained how the seed was planted in his head while watching the iconic ESPN series on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls over the pre-season before becoming clearer in his mind over the past couple of weeks. 

"It just all became a little bit too much for me. It was one of those ones where I sort of made the decision that I wasn't going to be the coach of Richmond next year," he said.

"I made the fatal mistake of watching The Last Dance at some stage (over summer) and thought what may have been, but once that part of the equation started to slip away I started to question myself.

"As soon as I started asking the question I started to understand what the answer was going to be. The best thing for myself was to step aside; if I couldn't give 100 per cent there was no way I was going to coach this footy club. It gives this footy club the best opportunity to find the next coach."

Hardwick said he was conscious of not overstaying his welcome at Punt Road, ensuring he left the club he described as "the love of his life" on good terms.

"In all honesty, I would rather leave too early (rather than) too late. The club means so much to me and I want to make sure I leave the game loving the game, not resenting the game," he said.

"I also want to make sure I leave this place with the best feelings. I came here seeking silverware, but the reality is I walk away thinking how great the journey was. I walk away incredibly happy."

Hardwick contemplated resigning after the win over Geelong in round nine and knew on Saturday night that his time was up, regardless of the result. Those inside the club knew something was up during the debrief back inside the Swinburne Centre late on Saturday night, when Hardwick didn't immediately start his planning for the following week's game.

Damien Hardwick addresses Richmond players during their loss to Essendon in round 10, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

The three-time All-Australian coach didn't want a send-off game against his old side Port Adelaide on Sunday afternoon, preferring to go with his children and allow interim coach Andrew McQualter to start the task of keeping Richmond's finals hopes alive in the second half of the season.

"It is not me to give a send-off. I've had an incredible journey and I just think it's time to step away. I'm actually looking forward to sitting down and watching the game with my kids, just to sit there and see what it's like really," he said. 

"I thought once I'd committed to stepping aside it would be not the right thing to do for me. I couldn't give as much as I'd like to with the prep and it's a really important game for our footy club. I still think this club is placed to challenge. It is much bigger than one man. We've got a playing list that is capable of doing some great things."

Dustin Martin looks on at Damien Hardwick's resignation media conference on May 23, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Hardwick is Richmond's longest-serving coach, having coached 307 games since he took over the role for the 2010 season.

He steered the Tigers to their drought-breaking 2017 flag triumph and backed it up with their consecutive 2019-2020 premierships. 

Hardwick said he would take some time to reset and refresh before contemplating returning to the coaches' box in the future, looking at options far and wide to recuperate.

"The biggest thing on my plate at the moment is to decompress and let it all go. Speaking to some of the players, Dustin (Martin) suggested I go to Ibiza and 'Bakes' (Liam Baker) suggested I go to Lake Grace. It is somewhere in between where I'll find myself," he said. 

"I'm just looking forward to a break. It has been an incredible journey for 13 or 14 years, but it is very consuming. The job as AFL club coach is very, very tough – don't get me wrong, I love it to death – but the fact of the matter is I just need a break and I'm looking forward to that."

In a press conference that lasted nearly half an hour, the admiration and connection between Hardwick and CEO Brendon Gale was clear, even to the point where the outgoing senior coach admitted to his now former boss that he filled up his car and his kids' cars one last time on the company card on Monday, much to amusement of the room.

Hardwick paid tribute to the support and contribution made by GMs Tim Livingstone and Blair Hartley, veteran administrator Neil Balme, former presidents Peggy O'Neal and Gary March and the playing group, especially the four players – Dustin Martin, Trent Cotchin, Jack Riewoldt and Dylan Grimes – who have been there every step of the way. 

New Richmond president John O'Rourke, who has been on the board since November 2015, said Hardwick's decision to quit came as a complete shock, but it epitomised the selfless mantra the coach has always lived by. 

Richmond president John O'Rourke, Damien Hardwick and CEO Brendon Gale. Picture: Getty Images

"While his three premierships will be the headline, he has given our club so much more. He has taught us about genuine care, connection and the power of storytelling. He loved his players and his players loved him," O'Rourke said.

"Make no mistake, his decision has come as a shock to our board but it's clear that he's given it some serious thought in recent weeks and we need to respect the decision that he has made. It really is the measure of the man that he's made this decision in what he sees is the best interest of the club. selflessness is one of his great qualities and for that Damien is and always be revered as a Richmond man. 

"This is a decision that Damien has wrestled with for some time. He has ultimately come to the conclusion that he no longer has the energy required to coach. The role of senior coach is incredible demanding and Damien has given it absolutely everything since being appointed 14 seasons ago. 

"Our club was coming from a long way behind when he was appointed in 2010. He set about the restoration of Richmond as a powerhouse football club on and off the field. History was created under his watch and for that we will be forever indebted. He finishes as the longest serving coach in the 138-year history of our club."

Richmond coach Damien Hardwick and CEO Brendon Gale embrace after the Tigers' Grand Final win in 2020. Picture: Michael Willson/AFL Photos

Gale said his relationship with Hardwick had been built on honesty and the former Essendon and Port Adelaide hardman had always said he would inform when his time was up. That moment arrived on Monday. 

Now Gale, O'Rourke and the Richmond board will begin a process to appoint its first senior coach since 2009, after having eight different coaches across the first 20 years of the AFL era. 

"This has always happened pretty quickly so we will work through that and redefine the attributes to be the Richmond coach for the next ten years. The game is evolving, we want to find the next Damien Hardwick," Gale said.

"We think we're a pretty attractive proposition; we are a strong club with a strong culture; we are pretty confident we've got a culture where a coach will thrive in our football club. because of this selfless decision it gives us an opportunity to get ahead of that."

Damien Hardwick and Trent Cotchin lift up the Premiership Cup after Richmond won the 2017 Toyota AFL Grand Final against Adelaide at the MCG on September 30, 2017. Picture: AFL Photos

In a pre-season interview with AFL.com.au, Hardwick said he would depart the post if he felt he wasn't fully motivated.

"I think that's the challenge," Hardwick said.

"I always ask myself the question – I do a pretty good self-analysis at the end of every season – but as soon as you lose that drive to improve or that motivation level drops, that's when you really have to walk away. But I'm very fortunate. I love what I do, I love the club I work for, I love the people I work for, I love the playing group.

"I always say to the players that for people who work 9-5, the best night of the week is Friday night. My job, in this club, is to make sure every day you walk in here feels like a Friday night. I'm going to have good days and bad days, but if I have that philosophy then I think we're going to be OK."

Damien Hardwick's coaching record

Games coached: 307
W-D-L record: 170-6-131
Premierships: 3 (2017, 2019, 2020)
Finals record (W-L): 10-6
Most games as Richmond coach: Hardwick - 307, Tom Hafey - 248, Jack Dyer - 222