The coaches: Mick Erwin
By: Glenn McFarlane
Games coach: Nine
Mick Erwin received an early present the day before his 39th birthday – he got to coach Collingwood for the first time.
And while he would be in charge on only 12 occasions as replacement for a sacked Tom Hafey in the second half of 1982, Erwin’s first outing would produce a rare distinction in a season almost devoid of them.
Collingwood’s 26.16 (172) win over St Kilda at Victoria Park in Round 11 would be the highest score in a first-time game for any new Magpies coach.
But the flip-side would be the other distinction of Erwin’s brief tenure – by season’s end he would have the worst winning percentage of any Collingwood coach in history, 25 per cent.
There was not a lot to cheer about for Collingwood that season. A stretch of eight successive losses had led to Hafey’s axing after Round 10 with Erwin installed as the caretaker role for the remainder of the season.
Hafey wasn’t happy about being sacked. Neither was he pleased that Erwin had been elevated to the role, believing later that his reserves coach had coveted the position.
A former Collingwood and Richmond player, Erwin took over when the club was fractured, a board challenge was imminent and the playing list was not only undermanned, but also lacking in confidence and cohesion.
But he was happy to take on the challenge, saying before his first game that “it is an honour and a privilege to be asked.”
Immediately, he set about trying to play a more attacking style, while he later said he also tried to restore some of the discipline that he felt had been eroded in the dying days of Hafey’s reign.
Erwin would say: “They were so undisciplined … they had been allowed to do what they wanted, even talk when the coach was talking. I stopped that, I meant business.
“A player such as (Rene) Kink – there was no way I was going to play him while he was well over-weight. There was pressure on me to play him, but there was no way I was going to give in to something like that.”
Admittedly, he had the perfect chance to make a solid start to his VFL coaching career with the fixture seeing Collingwood play lowly teams St Kilda and Footscray in his opening two games as coach.
The Magpies started slowly against the Saints, but off the back of six goals from Graham Teasdale and a best-afield effort from Peter Daicos, the home side was simply too strong when it mattered after kicking 10 goals in the third term.
The final margin was 36 points, with the Collingwood board breathing a sigh of relief after the tumultuous week that had led up to the game.
The following week the Magpies were far too good for Footscray, who had sacked Royce Hart – a one-time Hafey pupil – as coach in the same week as Collingwood had dumped their man.
Collingwood had been prolific again in week two of Erwin’s tenure, kicking 24.19 (163) against the Bulldogs to win by 66 points.
But the issues that were dividing Collingwood were not going to be patched over by a simple change of coach. Following those two first-up wins, Erwin’s team would lose nine consecutive matches in a miserable period.
Erwin explained: “Collingwood is the hardest club to coach. You are under more pressure to win than at any other club.”
“Collingwood is seen to have failed if it is not in the finals – and the grand final. (And) the real, heavy pressure started to get to me towards the end.”
Against the flow, the Magpies would cause an upset to defeat Geelong by five points by Victoria Park in the final round of the season.
That made for three wins from Erwin’s 12 games in the coaches’ box, with his 25 per cent winning record still rated as the least successful of those to have coached in black and white.
While he would be a candidate for the vacant position for 1983, Erwin was always going to be a long-shot to become the permanent coach, especially when the New Magpies reform group came to power.
He would lose out to successful South Australian coach John Cahill as Collingwood headed in a completely different direction.