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​Inside The Sacking Of A Bona Fide Brisbane Lions Legend, Coach Justin Leppitsch

In 14 seasons as a player, Leppitsch kicked 194 goals and played 227 games for Brisbane before retiring at the end of 2006. He was a bona fide Brisbane legend; a seemingly untouchable figure in footy folklore.

by James Pavey
01 September 2016, 2:25am

Courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

Members of Brisbane's board met on Monday morning, where a nine-man committee reportedly conducted a secret ballot to decide Leppitsch's future. After the meeting, club chairman Bob Sharpless rang Leppitsch to tell him the bad news, with the coach sacked despite having one year left on his contract. Shortly after, emails were sent to the club's players, informing them of the decision.

According to Sharpless in Monday's media conference, Leppitsch presented to the board last week and gave an "impressive" summary of his three years as coach and where he saw the team going in the coming seasons. Leppitsch didn't join Sharpless at the conference, instead opting to delay comment until later in the week. Considering what Sharpless had to say, it was probably a good decision.

"(Leppitsch) gave a number of reasons why the team's results have not reached the levels that we all expect. Those factors included injuries, retirements, a clean out of the playing list and fixture issues," Sharpless said. "At the end of the day, the AFL is a results-driven industry and we're simply not a competitive football team at the moment."

Unfortunately for Leppitsch, the results from his tenure speak for themselves. In his three years, Leppitsch led Brisbane to just 14 wins from a total of 66 games, at a paltry 21.2% winning rate. Brisbane never looked like a finals outfit with Leppitsch at the helm, finishing 15th (2014), 17th (2015) and 17th (2016) under his leadership. Brisbane was by far and away the worst defensive team in the AFL this season, conceding an average of nearly 131 points per game. Four of the top six highest scores this season came against Brisbane.

Brisbane avoided the 2016 wooden spoon, albeit only on percentages. Only Essendon finished lower after concluding a tough season where their squad was decimated by the bans handed down by the Court of Arbitration of Sport after being found guilty of taking banned substances during the 2012 season.

Simply, Brisbane have been nothing short than disappointing, and the club's board had had enough.

"We have regressed from 10 wins in 2013, to seven wins in 2014, four wins last season, and to three this year - while the nature of some of this season's heavy defeats to teams around the same position on the AFL ladder have been bitterly disappointing," Sharpless said.

Leppitsch was given the top job after club legend Michael Voss was sacked after taking Brisbane to the finals once in five seasons. After an aggressive 2009 trade period that flopped, the squad was depleted in Voss' later years as coach. So, the expectations for Leppitsch were relatively low, but he kept it low-key anyway.

"I'm very comfortable that the club is going forward," Leppitsch said after his appointment in late-2013. "One thing I know, we are building and are going to build a really good organisation. My goal is to actually create an enjoyable working environment that expects hard work. If I can get that from my players, I know that they're going to give everything they've got. And I know throughout the week they're going to come to work, motivated to listen and learn."

Many suggested Leppitsch was the perfect fit to lead Brisbane through this difficult period in the club's history, with many vocal supporters such as triple-premiership teammate Chris Johnson. As a player, Leppitsch was a rock solid defender that helped Brisbane to three straight premierships between 2001-03. In 14 seasons as a player, Leppitsch kicked 194 goals and played 227 games for Brisbane before retiring at the end of 2006. He is a bona fide Brisbane legend; a seemingly untouchable figure in footy folklore.

Instead, as it did with Voss, the plum gig as coach just didn't work out for Leppitsch. With Brisbane's board getting more and more impatient, every game in 2016 could've been Leppitsch's last. However, with the club in such turmoil, it seems justifiable that the Brisbane board waited until the end of the regular season to send Leppitsch packing.

When Brisbane were flogged by 138 points to Adelaide three weeks ago, the writing was on the wall. Leppitsch was generally stoic, but the cracks were beginning to show, again shifting blame to his inexperienced playing roster. "I would have thought it's pretty simple when you look at the side we have out there. It's boys against men, probably half our team shouldn't be playing," Leppitsch said. "We're wounded as a footy club, there's no doubt because we don't even have replacements to bring in."

Again, after a terrible 83-point loss to fellow cellar-dwellers Fremantle in June, Leppitsch said the club needed more from their senior players. "We are struggling in that component (consistency). Our players can play; they are good players. We just have to work on the staying power," he said.

Leppitsch even admitted that he knew the calls for his head from outside the club would increase if they were beaten by Essendon in the battle for the wooden spoon. Brisbane won that game, but the murmurs continued, and Leppitsch deflected the speculation. "Forget all the facts, the age group, and any other thing you are telling us, if you are losing you go, that is what the public does and probably will forever," he said. "That's why you need a really strong board and a really strong footy club.''

Brisbane are anything but a strong footy club. Since 2004, Brisbane have made the finals only once. Super coach Leigh Matthews resigned. Club legends Voss and now Leppistch have been sacked. Back in the club's heyday, the crowd and membership numbers rose at a dramatic rate as the team enjoyed incredible success. However, since 2004, Brisbane have made the finals just once in twelve attempts. As the team consistently struggles to make it to September, the club's support has decreased as quickly as it grew, with today's home crowds slumping to half of what they were when the team was at the peak of its powers.

Some say Leppitsch was stubborn and had poor communication with his coaches and players. Whether or not this is true, it is obvious that, as Sharpless said, results dictate a team's progress. Brisbane were going nowhere, and Leppitsch was the first to fall.

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