The Brisbane Lions will cast the net far and wide in the search for a new chief executive. But they may only have to look over the river to find the perfect candidate to provide some CPR to a decaying football club.
The resignation of Malcolm Holmes, a New Zealander with a background in horse racing and rugby, was one of the least surprising corporate movements in Brisbane sport this year. After the boardroom circus at the end of 2013, the ice under his chair was already starting to melt.
Brisbane needs a financial cuts man to try and Vaseline over some of the nasty gashes bleeding money all over the sidewalks at Woolloongabba. Steven Trigg from Adelaide and Carlton’s Gregg Swann have been nominated as prime candidates.
They would be tasked with turning around the fortunes of a club performing poorly on the field and even worse financially. The code has troubles cutting through in the Brisbane market and the team can barely hold onto any players, six of whom bolted for the door at the end of last season.
Sound familiar? They should pop over to Ballymore and ask Queensland Rugby chief executive Jim Carmichael how he solved a few of the problems confronting the Reds, a province that not so many years ago made the Lions seem like the New York Yankees.
No money? Tick. No wins? Tick. No players? Boom. Carmichael confronted them all when he and Ewen McKenzie took on the momentous task of rebuilding the mountain from 2010. It might well have been the most difficult gig in Australian sport, or at least in the top handful.
Two years later, the Reds had won the lot. They were the 2011 Super Rugby champions, their home games were the hottest ticket in town and the war chest was starting to fill with doubloons. I can still remember walking out of an empty stadium after midnight wondering what the hell just happened.
It may have been a perfect convergence of events. McKenzie’s hiring, replacing departing coach Phil Mooney, had already been completed by the time he set up shop. Mooney, to his enduring credit, poured the slab on which the golden tower was built, developing players like Will Genia, Quade Cooper and James Horwill before he was cut loose.
But Carmichael’s business acumen and work on the purse strings remains deeply impressive. I haven’t been able to put together a set of CEO Power Rankings just yet but he’d be pushing towards the top, even if the Reds are currently their own worst enemy on the park.
The other thing? He’s an AFL man through-and-through, making a very good fist of a foreign code. He made his way to Queensland via AFL House, where he was the league’s head of business and enterprise.
He’s ambitious, understands the workings of the media (something Holmes did poorly) and drove membership at the Reds – usually the bread and butter of an AFL side like Brisbane – better than anyone in the city.
Now, he has experience in the local market. Candidates like Trigg and Swann, from AFL heartland, may find that challenge more difficult than they think.
Any designs Carmichael had on fronting the ARU seem to have evaporated. He may remain completely content at the QRU, where he has helped drive not only the football department but a looming redevelopment of the iconic stadium at Herston.
But as it stands, the Lions need an administrator with runs on the board, revitalise the ‘brand’ and try to make a dollar or two as well. The Reds wouldn't let him go without a fight but a poaching raid may be just what the doctor ordered for the sick man of the AFL.