Australian netball will not tolerate losing. That is the inescapable subtext to Tuesday’s announcement by the game’s governing body, Netball Australia, that it will “part ways” with Lisa Alexander after a bushfire fundraiser in Sydney next month, 10 months before the national coach’s contract is due to expire.
While Alexander, who was appointed in 2011, led her side to gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the World Cup in Sydney the following year, they failed – that is, took silver – at the next two major events, the Commonwealth Games in 2018 and the World Cup in Liverpool last July.
Surprisingly, the 55-year-old was given a one-year contract extension following the Gold Coast Games, which would have seen her guide the national squad until the end of this calendar year. It also allowed her to coach her 100th Test – making her the first to do so – in November. Alexander finishes with 102 caps and an enviable 81% winning record.
Insiders say the Netball Australia board “got active” in the shadow of the one-goal loss to New Zealand in Liverpool, wondering aloud if Alexander, the first woman to hold the job who had not worn the gold dress, was the right person to take the team into the next cycle, which includes the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022 and the World Cup in Cape Town in 2023.
It is believed Alexander – who as recently as a week ago, was happily preparing for the 1 March fundraiser in which the Diamonds take on a Super Netball all-stars side – was told Netball Australia wanted to “go to market” this year to find a new coach and that she was welcome to apply.
The plan is said to have come as a big shock to Alexander, who confirmed in prepared remarks she would not be re-applying for her own job. She is believed to be devastated.
On the record, Alexander said she would “dearly have loved” to continue in the role beyond December this year. “Whilst disappointed with the decision not to renew my contract, I respect the decision of the board to head in a new direction.”
In making the announcement, Netball Australia chief executive Marne Fechner may have hinted at Alexander’s lack of match-day Super Netball experience – which is distinct from that of Silver Ferns guru Noeline Taurua, who heads both the Sunshine Coast Lightning and the New Zealand programs – as a potential issue.
“As we looked to the next high-performance cycle and beyond, there was a consensus and appetite for change heading into 2021. The high-performance landscape is ever changing and increasingly competitive and we believe it’s in the best interest of the program to open up the role,” Fechner said.
It’s clear to most observers that those two losses – both by a solitary goal – helped sealed Alexander’s fate. And as an aside, the situation has revealed the usually well-behaved sport of netball will not resile from being cut-throat if required.
This ruthlessness will have been welcomed by those who have been calling for Alexander’s scalp for months, and who have not forgiven her for how they perceive she “managed” Diamonds stars like Madi Browne, Cath Cox, Sharelle McMahon and Nat Medhurst, out the door at the end of their careers.
How the current crop of Diamonds – who all bar one, captain Caitlin Bassett, have only known Alexander as their national coach – will respond in the short and long term will be fascinating.
While several of the starting seven carry the burden of the big two misfires every time they step onto the world stage, the side remains world No 1 for a reason and is bursting with talent, established and emerging. And unlike any other national side, the Diamonds have the luxury of playing in the world’s best league week in, week out.
A fresh set of eyes – that watch Super Netball every week – may be just what the Diamonds ordered. Vixens coach Simone McKinnis, who worked with fellow Victorian Alexander as a specialist defensive coach at the start of Alexander’s national tenure, appears the most likely successor.
McKinnis, considered one of the best wing defences the game has ever seen, already coaches a handful of Diamonds at the Vixens and her well-known capacity for culture-building is something that will no doubt appeal to Netball Australia as it looks to move into a new era.
Jane Woodlands-Thompson, a former national league coach and current GM of women’s sport at Collingwood, is another name being thrown around. Whoever steps into the fold will do it with their eyes wide open; failure is not an option.