Lachie Weller and Jade Gresham during St Kilda's match against Gold Coast in R4, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

DOES the upheaval of losing a coach partway through a season galvanise or tear apart a playing group? History, as always, tells an interesting tale.

Following the premature departure of Stuart Dew at Gold Coast, attention quickly turned to Steven King's first game in charge of the Suns, against St Kilda on Saturday afternoon.

In the past decade, 14 senior coaches have left their club partway through a season, with teams holding a 6-8 record in their first game with a new man at the helm.

While the raw numbers offer no real insight for Saturday's clash against the Saints, a deeper dive indicates a new coach can lead to an immediate lift.

In most circumstances, a senior coach has departed after a string of poor performances and heavy defeats. The fact these struggling teams, over the past decade, have a win percentage of 43 per cent the following week suggests on-field improvement.

Even teams that have lost their first game of a new era have often been much more competitive than they had been previously. This year, only a bizarre interchange infringement cost North Melbourne a rare win over Sydney just days after Alastair Clarkson stepped away for personal reasons amid a seven-match losing streak.


In 2013, Melbourne lost 10 of its first 11 games by an average margin of 82 points under Mark Neeld, with the only win coming against the lowly Greater Western Sydney. The Demons' first game under interim Neil Craig was a loss to St Kilda by a relatively respectful 35 points before they secured a breakthrough win over the Bulldogs the following week.

In 2015, Essendon lost to Gold Coast by just two points in its first match after James Hird resigned as senior coach. Coming on the back of a five-match losing streak, including two losses by more than 80 points, such a narrow defeat – Jake Carlisle missed a late shot on goal that would have won the game – represented an uptick in performance.


Of the six teams to have won their first game under a new coach, three of them - North Melbourne in 2022 (15 games) as well as Carlton (seven games) and St Kilda (four games) in 2019 - broke long losing streaks.

But there are no guarantees a change of coach will bring a change of fortunes straight away. Fremantle in 2019 (after the departure of Ross Lyon), Gold Coast in 2017 (Rodney Eade) and Carlton in 2015 (Mick Malthouse) all lost their first game under an interim coach by more than seven goals.

Interim coach Dean Solomon and players after the round 21 match between Brisbane and Gold Coast at the Gabba, August 12, 2017. Picture: AFL Media

New coach bounce?

How clubs perform the week after a coach departs, 2013-2023*


Brett Ratten replaced Alastair Clarkson. North Melbourne (16th) lost to Sydney (14th) by three points

Andrew McQualter replaced Damien Hardwick. Richmond lost (14th) to Port Adelaide (third) by 10 points


Leigh Adams replaced David Noble. North Melbourne (18th) beat Richmond (eighth) by five points

Mark McVeigh replaced Leon Cameron. Greater Western Sydney (15th) beat West Coast (18th) by 52 points.

Interim coach Leigh Adams celebrates after a win in the round 18 match between North Melbourne and Richmond at Marvel Stadium, July 16, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos


Robert Harvey replaced Nathan Buckley. Collingwood (15th) lost to Fremantle (11th) by 12 points


Rhyce Shaw replaced Brad Scott. North Melbourne (14th) beat Richmond (fourth) by 37 points

David Teague replaced Brendon Bolton. Carlton (18th) beat Brisbane (fifth) by 15 points

Brett Ratten replaced Alan Richardson. St Kilda (15th) beat the Western Bulldogs (10th) by 27 points

David Hale replaced Ross Lyon. Fremantle (13th) lost to Port Adelaide (11th) by 43 points

Interim coach David Teague joins the players after winning the round 12 match between Carlton and Brisbane at Marvel Stadium, June 8, 2019. Picture: Getty Images


Dean Solomon replaced Rodney Eade. Gold Coast (15th) lost to Brisbane (18th) by 58 points


John Barker replaced Mick Malthouse. Carlton (18th) lost to Sydney (third) by 60 points

Matthew Egan replaced James Hird. Essendon (15th) lost to Gold Coast (16th) by two points

Interim coach Matthew Egan before the round 21 match between Gold Coast and Essendon at Metricon Stadium, August 22, 2015. Picture: AFL Media


Neil Craig replaced Mark Neeld. Melbourne (17th) lost to St Kilda (16th) by 35 points

Mark Harvey replaced Michael Voss. Brisbane (13th) beat GWS (18th) by 60 points

*Not including off-season coaching changes or one-game absences for illness etc