“Those sacked, and those to be sacked,” was how Denis Pagan once put life as an AFL coach.
It’s a sentiment that’s been echoed for as long as there has been footy: coaches don’t get happy endings.
When was the last time a coach called it a day with a cheering crowd ringing in his ears, and images of a cup in club-coloured ribbons fresh in the memory?
Players do it regularly. Shane Crawford’s last game was Hawthorn’s 2008 flag, and Geelong skipper Cameron Ling walked away after hoisting the cup in 2011.
Certainly the march of time provides a subtle push on weary bodies.
But coaches, whose profession tortures the mind instead of the body, just lurch on, consumed by the thought of the next win.
When Mick Malthouse accepted the job of Carlton coach in September 2012, he confirmed as much.
“My drive is to see that mountain peak climbed,” he said.
“I back myself in any team to get the best out of any individual.”
After three flags, and with a standing in the game unrivalled among today’s crop of coaches, Malthouse was bitter about the way he was thrown on the scrapheap by Collingwood.
Stung by that enforced retirement plan, excited by a new challenge and a feeling he had plenty still to offer, he jumped back into the frying pan.
But two-and-a-bit seasons in and it looks like Malthouse made a big mistake.
His Carlton side are going backwards, and while the list he has inherited is a hell not of his own making, the buck stops with him.
Their loss to Greater Western Sydney on Saturday was the deepest trough yet in a season where the term ‘bottom’ is being redefined each week.
Earlier this month, before he broke Jock McHale’s coaching record of 714 senior games, Malthouse was the beneficiary of a week-long amnesty from the football media.
Three losses since then have seen the snipers load their guns.
Former Carlton player Mark Maclure, who – like his former teammate and coach Robert Walls – is strictly from the head-kicking school of punditry, said Malthouse will fall this week.
“Changes will be made,” Maclure told the ABC. “You can’t put up a performance like that and think you’re going to hang onto your job.
“There will be some things happen this week if this is the club I know it is. And if it’s not, they’re in poor shape.”
Yet Blues president Mark LoGiudice has thrown his support behind the coach.
“Nothing has, or will, change. Mick Malthouse will coach our football club for the remainder of the season,” LoGiudice said.
“He will continue to have our full support as will the players and the coaching staff.”
Ahead for Malthouse are two appearances under the glare of the Friday night lights – against Geelong at Etihad Stadium, then Sydney at the SCG.
Last week he declared he’d coach as long as “a job is there to be done”.
In a 31-year career that has been remarkably free of jams, Malthouse will need every ounce of his nous to navigate these days.
He’s been skating over the black ice of AFL coaching for more than three decades.
How much longer he can skate will be decided by Carlton’s board.