© AAPFormer AFL player and coach Dean Laidley.
Of all the events to follow former North Melbourne coach Dean Laidley's May 4 arrest on stalking charges, the most predictable for AFL Coaches Association chief executive Mark Brayshaw was the stream of phone calls he received from Laidley's peers in the ranks of former coaches.
With vulnerability they'd refused to show when the curtain fell on their own coaching lives, almost to a man, they reacted to Laidley's public downfall with an admission of their own: 'I should have asked for help'.
For the AFL Coaches Association, which focuses the lion's share of its attention on the current crop of 180 senior and assistant coaches employed by 18 clubs, the problem is not a new one.
At the end of some seasons, up to half a dozen senior coaches become ex-coaches, and Brayshaw's offer of support services is politely rebuffed.
"Sometimes there is an inability to identify the need for, or accept any help," Brayshaw says.
"In some cases, it's shame and embarrassment, and reduced self-esteem and self-worth.
"The thing they all say is that it's an intoxicating environment."
"But when the merry-go-round stops and you get spat out, unless you're one of those guys who gets straight back into it like Brendon Bolton has, or you've got another career like Brad Scott, Don Pyke or Ross Lyon, if you're looking for a job and you need it, it's bloody lonely."
One sacked coach who felt that loneliness keenly, was Australian Football Hall of Famer Terry Wallace, whose high-profile loss of the Richmond job in 2009 followed a prolonged tabloid media circus.
That experience, and the recent, highly publicised post-football struggles of fellow coaches - not only Laidley, but Mark Thompson and James Hird, and the death of Danny Frawley - have lit a spark in Wallace, and he'd like to see change.
"The pressures have grown and grown, and the media coverage of it has grown and grown," Wallace says.
"When I got sacked at Richmond I said that however bad my sacking was, you could guarantee that whoever was next would be worse, and the one after that would be worse again.
"The stories were becoming bigger and bigger once there was blood in the water.
"In the 12 years since then, I think we've seen more and more pressure applied to coaches.
"I think it's broken down some people. It is a type of situational depression you can get yourself into."
"If you haven't got a support structure around you, it's very hard to seek it out once you're under that pressure."
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Wallace says the struggle is particularly acute for coaches who've only ever worked in football and don't gain another foothold in other football or media roles once senior coaching ends.
"When that falls apart, it's not as easy to pick up the pieces as it might be for someone who's come from another career," Wallace says.
"And let's be honest, you're talking about egos here too. We all had to be bolder, brasher and sometimes smarter. You've had to be good to get the position in the first place.
"It's very ego-driven. So, when that ego gets ripped to shreds and you're battling to plan your next move, things can get murky."
"The coaches association do a good job immediately after you're sacked, but my worry is the tracking of coaches after they leave the system.
"When you're 18 months out of it, nobody is picking up the phone and seeing how you're going.
"The question I'd like to ask is where the responsibility lies to track what these guys are doing with their lives after they leave the system? How long do we track and support them for? Had these problems been identified in the industry? If we didn't know, do we have a responsibility to know?"
Brayshaw admits that the Coaches Association must now adapt.
"There is no 'one-size-fits-all' approach, but there is no doubt I am examining the way we can provide services to the members after they leave," he says.
The problem for now, Brayshaw says, is "a combination of that bullet-proof alpha male mindset with the fact that the industry just moves straight on to the next guy.
"There is just no sentiment. But I think it's worthwhile thinking how we can do a better job of it."
Former Adelaide senior coach Neil Craig, who is currently advising England rugby coach Eddie Jones after close to a decade in support roles at Melbourne, Essendon and Carlton, says the process starts with the clubs, which need to ensure they're appointing senior coaches with the right combination of skills, not to mention previous football and life experiences to handle the stresses and strains of the job, then support them.
Observing at close quarters the demise of other senior coaches gave Craig fresh perspective on his own time in the hot seat, and he admits he would do things differently if he could turn back time.
"When I relive that myself, in hindsight, to have some form of professional counselling when you leave the situation, if you wanted it, I'm reflecting now and I didn't get that, because I thought I didn't need it.
"But if I had my time again I would. Just for my own wellbeing.
"That might be part of an option to have that available to coaches.
"You can't make people do things they don't want to do, but the option should be there. The end can be quite traumatic."
"If [coaches are] not going to continue, we need to find the most respectful and healthy way to transition the person out of the job."
Where Craig's worldview differs from Wallace's is that he sees media scrutiny as part and parcel of the role.
"I'm not trying to downplay it, but that is the job, and it ain't going away," he says.
"It's an important part of high-performance sport, and there is great public interest.
"And coaching is not a job for life."
The model for the future, Craig suggests, is stronger mentoring and support figures at the side of senior coaches, rather than exclusively young and less experienced assistant coaches, and a more formal external mentoring network where experienced former coaches act as sounding boards to any and all of the current crop.
As clubs face new financial realities and football department headcounts are trimmed, the latter suggestion might be the most practical.
"Why wouldn't you access the experience and thought process with someone like Mick Malthouse or Kevin Sheedy?" Craig says.
"It would be great to have a pool of people who are willing and able to provide advice."
Craig says that when it's all over, a "transition protocol" should be put in place for exiting coaches, who would receive professional counselling, and ideally, would draw on their club's networks inside and outside the football to pursue new work opportunities.
However, no measure will ease the unseen burden on the 18 families feeling the intense attention of the football world at any given time.
Brayshaw says the impact bears down hardest on the children of coaches.
"Little kids are OK in the sense that they can't read the media and social media, so they aren't as aware of that conversation, but the flipside of that is that they're the ones who need to see more of their dad, but he's travelling and working all the time," says Brayshaw, adding that the partners of coaches face myriad pressures.
"There is the uncertainty of job security that is associated with AFL football and the media speculation about their partner, and, when things are going badly, how vitriolic that can be.
"And if you've moved interstate for the job, you don't always have family and friends around you."
Although stories like Laidley's remain outliers, Wallace argues that change is overdue from AFL headquarters down.
"People can say 'toughen up', but this is an unprecedented era in this industry, and we have to work out why this is occurring and do something about it," Wallace says.
"It's a complex issue, there is no doubt about that.
"But I can't remember another time when it's been like this, with the things happening to senior coaches.
"We've got to be asking questions. We can't have deaths, suicides and major breakdowns occurring on people's watch."