I actually agree with this view:
Anyone who has watched the team under Griffin’s stewardship knows why the club needs a back-up plan. If he wins games, the job is his. But relying on that could be dangerous.
In 2019, without informing coach Nathan Brown, the Newcastle Knights compiled a shortlist of potential replacements as part of an internal review of the football team’s performance.
Under the direction of club powerbrokers, then Knights recruitment manager Troy Pezet had identified and made enquiries with the representatives of Sydney Roosters assistant coach Adam O’Brien
On the morning Brown was meant to meet with Knights chief executive Phil Gardiner to discuss his future, he resigned as Newcastle coach. He had heard about what had been happening behind his back and walked.
Two years later, the Cronulla Sharks managed to keep negotiations with coaching target Craig Fitzgibbon secret for four months, all while knocking back requests for an extension from incumbent John Morris.
After the Herald broke the news Fitzgibbon had agreed to terms with the Sharks, Morris left the club immediately.
Also in 2021, towards the end of the season, Wests Tigers made the first of many discreet enquiries to gauge Cameron Ciraldo’s interest in taking over from Michael Maguire.
On that occasion, having been told that pursuing Ciraldo would be a waste of time, they gave Maguire another season in the coach’s chair.
That stay of execution lasted just a few months before the club was making enquiries about Ciraldo’s position once again, culminating in the axing of Maguire and a public pursuit of the man who ended up knocking back the Tigers for Phil Gould’s Bulldogs.
There isn’t a blueprint for replacing coaches. Almost all tenures end in some degree of acrimony. The Dragons, though – regardless of the twists this tale may take over the coming months – have placed an emphasis on honesty.
It’s why the club sat down with Anthony Griffin before their first game of the year to tell him what he already knew – that, coming off contract with a 41.5 per cent success rate, he was no guarantee to be around next year.
That, while he attempted to prove to Dragons powerbrokers he deserved another chance, the club would make sure someone else would be ready to step in if he failed.
Anyone who has watched the Dragons under Griffin, who is in the final season of his three-year deal, would understand why the club would be looking at alternatives.
They’ve regressed as a football team despite possessing enough talent to challenge for finals.
The Dragons could have followed the lead of the Knights, Sharks and Tigers, but instead they have given the coach an undertaking that nothing will be done behind his back.
While some may view this decision as the beginning of the end for Griffin, his future is in his own hands.
Suggestions that the Dragons have thrown away another season are wide of the mark. Griffin is now coaching for his career. If he loses this job it’s hard to see him landing another head coaching position elsewhere. That’s something worth fighting for.
And if players have any thoughts of throwing in the towel, it will only prove harmful to their chances of being part of the future coach’s plans.
If the Dragons win games, the job will remain Griffin’s. But if things unravel, the club will at least have done its homework on what the next move should be.
In a way, the Dragons settled for Griffin when they appointed him three years ago. When the club sacked Paul McGregor at the end of 2020 they did so without a back-up plan.
They then chased and missed out on Fitzgibbon because of his handshake agreement with Roosters supremo Nick Politis to remain as the club’s assistant coach for at least another 12 months.
They also made enquiries with Ciraldo, who wasn’t ready to leave Penrith, and ultimately settled for what they thought was their best option.
The club doesn’t want to make that mistake again. It’s why they will make enquiries with Melbourne’s Craig Bellamy, however long the odds may be of landing him.
They will do their due diligence on all prospective coaches – like former Dragons players Jason Ryles, Dean Young and Ben Hornby – so that if the time came to pull the trigger on Griffin they would have all the information to help turn the fortunes of the proud club.
There’s a view that following the advice of skipper Ben Hunt, who has a long-standing relationship with the coach from their days together at the Broncos, could be detrimental.
“I’d encourage the board to really just back him,” Hunt recently told the Herald. “There’s nothing worse than being in the situation we are now, where everyone is coming for your head and you’ve got the board second-guessing the coaching staff. You need to be all in. You’ve got to back your guy.
“At the end of the day, if you get to the end of the season and it hasn’t worked out, then make your decision. Don’t get five, six, seven or eight games in and start second-guessing what we’re doing because then everything will really turn to s---. I’d encourage them just to back us.”
As welcome as that would be for Hunt, who tried and failed to have his recent contract tied to the future of Griffin, the Dragons can’t afford to wait another 24 weeks to make a call.
Fitzgibbon showed the blueprint at Cronulla. He was given six months to move players on and bring in ones that suited his coaching style.
The Dragons have a huge call to make. One that they deferred when they reached a crossroads at the end of 2022.
Their football team was severely underperforming. Notable concerns had surfaced surrounding the culture of the club. And murmurs of player unrest had gained momentum.
At the time the Herald reported that sections of the dressing room did not see eye-to-eye with Griffin over his coaching methodology, and angst was brewing towards the coach over his perceived special treatment of Queensland trio Hunt, Andrew McCullough and Josh McGuire.
The club had a premiership-winning coach within its ranks in Shane Flanagan, who was being lured to the Northern Beaches to join Anthony Seibold at Manly, and didn’t flinch as he made his way out the exit doors.
The club, having triggered a one-year option in Griffin’s contract before a ball was kicked in 2022, wasn’t ready to concede that perhaps their show of faith was misguided.
In the summer they overhauled Griffin’s coaching staff, putting the emphasis on delegation in the hope things would change in 2023.
There have been signs of life in their two games this year. But relying on those signs to grow into tangible results, knowing the history of their team to fade away in the second half of the season, would be irresponsible.
For all the criticism of the club in recent years, most of which has been warranted, perhaps there is finally some method to the madness.