THE shock axing yesterday of St Kilda coach Scott Watters so late in the year could have serious ramifications at rival club Richmond, which could lose respected senior coaching team member Mark Williams to the Saints.
Williams, Port Adelaide’s premiership coach in 2004, is understood to be one of the most favoured candidates to replace Watters by high-ranking Saints officials and several directors.
Williams has been heavily involved in development at the Tigers since leaving Greater Western Sydney after the Giants failed to honour a promise to make him senior coach following Kevin Sheedy’s retirement.
St Kilda’s favourite son, dual Brownlow medallist Robert Harvey, is understood to not be on the club’s priority list and appears certain to remain at Collingwood where he was recently upgraded to Nathan Buckley’s right-hand man.
Harvey, who has been an assistant coach at Carlton and Collingwood, unsuccessfully applied for the St Kilda job after Ross Lyon left at the end of 2011. Watters, who was contracted for another year, got the nod ahead of Ken Hinkley.
Former Brisbane coach Michael Voss will be invited to express his interest in the position.
St Kilda is in turmoil and will start the new year with a new president, new chief executive, new senior coaching staff and a new high-performance manager. Senior assistant coach Dean Laidley left earlier this week to join Carlton, while general manager of football operations Greg Hutchison was made redundant two months ago.
An ongoing clash with St Kilda’s head of football, Chris Pelchen, and a more recent fallout with outgoing chief executive Michael Nettlefold led to the demise of Watters.
According to Nettlefold, one of the reasons Watters was appointed as senior coach in October 2011 was because of his holistic approach to the club’s operation.
While no official reason for the sacking was given yesterday by new president Peter Summers, that approach across the club eventually led to his downfall.
Pelchen, who lost out on a power struggle with coach Alastair Clarkson and football manager Mark Evans at his previous club Hawthorn, appears to have won the political fight at St Kilda following an internal review of its football operations by former player and director Andrew Thompson.
The Weekend Australian understands that the tipping point in Watters’s axing was his agreement this week to hire assistant coach Ashley Prescott without consulting Pelchen. Prescott, who worked with Fremantle in recent years, was to have replaced Laidley.
Watters, who won 17 of his 44 games during a difficult rebuilding period, was never officially questioned by his board about his coaching ability.
Watters, who had been told recently his contract would be extended after guiding the Saints through the first two years of a transition phase, was sacked following a board meeting early yesterday. He is expected to be paid out his final year in full, an amount between $ 370,000 and $ 400,000.
Despite losing A-graders Brendon Goddard and Nick Dal Santo to free agency over the past 12 months and a host of retirements, sources close to the Saints yesterday denied there was a rift between the coach and his players.
As he was about to be terminated, Watters spoke glowingly on SEN radio about the future of the Saints, and was unaware of his fate.
Summers denied a personality clash led to Watters’s axing, adding that the reasons would remain confidential between the board and the departing coach.
He said he would not go into any details behind the sacking, saying the coach’s relationships with other senior club figures had not played a significant part.
“The issue around some of the personality issues, we addressed those in the review,” Summers said. “Were they a strong factor in this morning’s decision? No.”
Watters had earlier told SEN during an interview which was not sanctioned by the club, he had been told by his president that he was seen as a long-term coach. Last month he confided in close friends that he would be given a one-year extension, but an announcement would not be made until January or February.
When Summers was asked what had changed his opinion of Watters during the past month, he said: “We hope that everyone who comes in is successful and is long-term but it’s obviously not unconditional.”
A blunt Nettlefold yesterday said: “This club is not just built around one person.”