There aren’t many that envy the pressures that come with being one of the 18 AFL head coaches; the extreme highs are usually canceled out by the tough losses and strangling stresses of public scrutiny.
And given this is a results-based business, with varying levels of patience across the landscape, maintaining an AFL coaching job for an extended length of time is a huge challenge.
Some clubs are in the midst of agonising finals droughts.
While other sides in the AFL have enjoyed tremendous stability for over a decade.
There was more high profile turnover in 2023; Damien Hardwick become a huge AFL coaching exit, ending a 14-year tenure at the Richmond Tigers.
And it became the end of an era, not only for those at the Tigers, but for the entire competition. Hardwick was the longest-reigning AFL coach, now passing the baton down the line.
The latest development, of course, is that Hardwick has already popped up as the new face of the Gold Coast Suns, starting a fresh six-year contract.
So we’ve put together the list of active coaching tenures, across all 18 AFL coaches, to see how long each of the 18 head AFL coaches have been at the helm.
The longest AFL coaching reigns
We list in descending order the length of each AFL coach’s tenure, entering the 2024 season.
John Longmire, Sydney Swans
‘Horse’ – his popular nickname – took over the head coaching role in 2010, after spending many years as an assistant under legend Paul Roos.
Longmire has been to four grand finals in that position, winning the final match of the year just once, in 2012.
Chris Scott, Geelong Cats
The two-time premiership winning coach has been arguably the most successful of the 2010s, only missing the finals three times in the top job — which included 2023… certainly a surprise coming off the 2022 flag.
Ken Hinkley, Port Adelaide Power
Hinkley has a great win percentage as head coach of Port and although he hasn’t reached a Grand Final in his time, he has proven to be one of the better coaches going around.
High expectations have kept Hinkley’s seat warm for much of his reign and it remains unclear just how much longer he’ll stay on.
Adam Simpson, West Coast Eagles
Taking over the reigns at the Eagles in 2013, Simpson led his side to a famous premiership in 2018, beating Collingwood in one of the best Grand Finals of the modern era.
After a testing 2023 season that had Simpson under the pump, while West Coast embarks on a lengthy rebuild, his future remains up in the air.
Luke Beveridge, Western Bulldogs
Not only a premiership-winning coach, Beveridge is widely respected for persistently defending his players from media scrutiny.
The iconic gesture after the club’s winning 2016 campaign, handing his premiership medal to injured Bulldogs legend Bob Murphy, will stand the test of time.
The seven years in charge since the Dogs hoisted the cup, though, have rarely met expectations. Critics continue to question whether the club would be better to turn over a new leaf.
Simon Goodwin, Melbourne Demons
He was almost axed a few years ago after a rough start to the season, but Goodwin turned it around and ended the Demons’ 57-year premiership drought in 2021.
Since then, though, culture concerns have popped up. The Dees will be firmly under the spotlight in 2024, with a ‘win now’ list that’s flamed out in its last two finals campaigns.
Chris Fagan, Brisbane Lions
A long-time assistant coach under Alastair Clarkson at Hawthorn, Fagan was a major part of Hawthorn’s dynasty before joining Brisbane.
He’s been successful with the Lions, leading a rebuild that’s had the side knocking on the door for quite some time now.
His side fell agonisingly short of premiership glory in 2023, losing the decider to Collingwood by four points.
Justin Longmuir, Fremantle Dockers
A former Freo player himself, Longmuir has unearthed some serious talent out west but is yet to put all the pieces together.
The Dockers’ development will undoubtedly be under the microscope in 2024.
Matthew Nicks, Adelaide Crows
It’s been a struggle for much of Nicks’ time in charge so far, with the Crows going through a deep regeneration mission.
But things appear to be coming together and Adelaide’s set to be one of the movers in 2024.
Sam Mitchell, Hawthorn Hawks
We’ve seen glimpses of brilliant coaching from the former premiership Hawk, but Hawthorn just don’t have the roster at the moment to help change the club’s fortunes.
Mitchell has been trusted, though, to see Hawthorn through its thorough rebuild and the green shoots are certainly appearing.
Craig McRae, Collingwood Magpies
In his rookie season as a coach, McRae took Collingwood all the way to a Preliminary Final; his side went down by just one point at the SCG.
And then 2024 happened… proving McRae has everything it takes to end up being one of the special AFL coaches of this generation. What a story this has been so far.
Michael Voss, Carlton Blues
Michael Voss was under all kinds of heat midway through year two with the Blues, before leading his side on an unlikely nine-game win streak into the finals reckoning.
Carlton ultimately finished only a few goals short of the 2023 Grand Final, which has bought Voss plenty of credibility going forward.
Alastair Clarkson, North Melbourne Kangaroos
After starting the season with two wins on the trot, it seemed all North Melbourne ever needed was a good coach with an excellent resume.
But it might not be that simple at Arden Street; a lot has played out at Arden Street since his arrival and there’s an absolute stack of hard work required for ‘Clarko’ to turn North’s fortunes around.
Brad Scott, Essendon Bombers
Brad Scott took a few years away from the rigours of an AFL coaching job, after exiting North Melbourne in 2019.
But finally the league has the two Scott boys coaching at the same time again — and Scott appears to be the Bombers’ long-term answer, as he pleads for patience from fans and stakeholders.
Adam Kingsley, Greater Western Sydney Giants
Kingsley has certainly hit the ground running at GWS, helping a side supposedly re-tooling reach an unlikely Preliminary Final. And boy did the Giants go close to beating the Pies in the Prelim.
The challenge now is to prove that 2023 wasn’t a fluke.
Ross Lyon, St Kilda Saints
Lyon helped lead the Saints to a finals charge in his first year back at the helm.
He returned to St Kilda after departing at the end of the 2011 season, a five-year stretch, where he coached them to three Grand Final appearances (two in the one season in 2010, famously).
Damien Hardwick, Gold Coast Suns
After a very quick stint away from the game, refreshing the mind and soul, Hardwick successes Stuart Dew on the Gold Coast.
With a renewed sense of hope, can the Suns finally reach a finals series?
Recently-ended AFL coaches reigns
Stuart Dew, Gold Coast Suns: 6 years
Dew had a tough time trying to break the club’s finals drought and never quite got there.
While the Suns certainly had their moments under the former Port and Hawthorn player, excitement for Damien Hardwick’s fresh Gold Coast tenure says more than enough on the overall thoughts and feelings about the Suns’ last six seasons.