Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.


Mon 20

Terrifying Love

What Max Reckons Forgive me, but I need to get this off my chest. I am a Richmond Tigers fan. That’s a football team. And by football, I mean Australian Rules. I don’t want to get into a whole debate about which football code is best, but it’s this one. Let’s just stipulate that and move on.

I began following the Tigers when I was about eight. Looking back, I think it was the exact moment they transitioned from a league powerhouse to the most spectacularly unsuccessful football team of the last quarter-century. I love the Tigers, but so far the journey has comprised three or four moments of ecstasy in an ocean of misery and despair.

Currently we are at the bottom of the ladder, with zero wins. We are probably about to sack our coach. I have been a strong supporter of our coach over the last five years, because he is smart. Our previous coach was not smart, and that didn’t work out so well. So this was a refreshing change.

But now I’m thinking smart is overrated. It’s useful. But it doesn’t seem to be as important to winning games as other qualities; in particular, being Terrifying and Lovable.

Graph of AFL coachesBecause I woke at 5AM this morning and couldn’t go back to sleep, I decided to rate AFL coaches on those three dimensions. I scored a coach highly on Terrifying if he is combative in interviews, physically intimidating, and generally looks seconds away from pushing somebody’s head through a wall. He scored Lovable points if he is the sort of bloke I would want to share a beer with or invite home for dinner. And I awarded Wily points if he is clever and tactical, both on match day and in the media.

(Incidentally, my first thought was to rate coaches based on how many Google hits their names returned when coupled with relevant words. But I couldn’t find ones that worked. The word “tough,” for example, occurs frequently in articles about Richmond, but in contexts like “tough season,” “tough luck,” and “Convincing anyone to coach this club will be tough.”)

It turned out that Terrifying was about twice as important as Lovable in terms of modeling a coach’s success, and Lovable in turn was about twice as important as Wily. This explained a lot for me. Richmond’s current coach, Terry Wallace, is very Wily, but not very Terrifying, and a little too self-interested to be Lovable. Our previous coach, Danny Frawley, was very Lovable, but neither Terrifying nor Wily. And I suspect Lovable can only take you so far: if you keep losing games, you probably become rapidly less Lovable. Those coaches who have a significant impact in their first year or two, then are powerless to stop their team sinking down the ladder: I think they’re Lovable coaches losing their shine. And one more thing: this accounts for the vogue toward younger coaches. “Lethal” Leigh Matthews, an extremely successful coach over many years who was nonetheless replaced last year, was one of the most physically intimidating men the game ever produced, but at 57, he wasn’t getting any more Terrifying.

Based on this, I hope Richmond’s next coach will be Nathan Buckley. I have no idea whether he’s any chop as a tactician, but he seems like a really decent, stand-up guy who might, if you annoy him, tear off your arms. Perfect.


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Robert Belton (#3176)

Location: The best city in australia.
Posted: 3778 days ago

Worsfold, Loveable? I'm an eagles fan, ever since they existed, but he is not a lovable fella. Though I'm pleased he came out as best coach according to your rankings.

Peter Weisberg (#1820)

Location: Redmond, WA
Quote: "Women are like domain names. All the good ones are taken, but you can still get one from some crazy foreign country."
Posted: 3777 days ago

"I began following the Tigers when I was about eight. Looking back, I think it was the exact moment they transitioned from a league powerhouse to the most spectacularly unsuccessful football team of the last quarter-century."


Ben Turner (#922)

Location: Canberra, Australia
Quote: "I have nothing to say on that matter, unless it happens to benefit me to say something."
Posted: 3777 days ago

Hmmm, in times like these, people only admit to barracking for Richmond when they're either looking for pity, or looking for a fight. I'm guessing you're a pity seeker Max :) There are also those staunch supporters who, with undying optimism, know that it can only get better from here.

By the way, Richmond isn't on the bottom yet. They're a whole 10% above Fremantle.

Machine Man subscriber gStein (#585)

Quote: "That's not change! That's more of the same!"
Posted: 3777 days ago

uhm, that entire blog means nothing to me
someone care to translate?

Machine Man subscriber David (#1456)

Location: Sydney, Australia
Quote: "Why are the pretty ones always insane?"
Posted: 3777 days ago

"...stand-up guy who might, if you annoy him, tear off your arms." I can't help noticing that the violent removal of limbs seems to on your mind a lot lately Mr. Barry, would you like to talk about it? ;-)

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 3777 days ago

By the way, I apologize for that blog to all site members who could not give a crap.

Simon (#3192)

Location: Melbourne
Quote: "I'd rather be arrogant than wrong"
Posted: 3777 days ago

HaHa, Max you really need to start writing a new novel! And hands off Buckley, he's ours.

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 3777 days ago

@Robert Belton: He seems Lovable to me. But I don't know him that well. It's possible these rankings haven't been subjected to the strictest possible scientific scrutiny.

@Ben Turner: I always admit to being a Richmond man. But it's true, we are pitiable. We DESERVE your pity. You don't know what we've been through.

Machine Man subscriber Mapuche (#1184)

Location: Darwin, Australia
Quote: "Inconceivable!"
Posted: 3777 days ago

We Richmond fans don't only come out of the woodwork when we win though (unlike the collywobbles). Anyway, despite not actually winning, Richmond are putting up some better showings (the last three minutes of the weekend game was exciting), and Richo has been awesome.

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 3777 days ago

I'd go so far as to say that our last TEN minutes were good! Unfortunately the rest were awful. In fact, Melbourne were awful, and they beat us.

Michael (#1790)

Location: New Jersey, USA
Quote: "Roses are red; Violets are blue; in Soviet Russia, poem writes YOU!"
Posted: 3777 days ago

What does Wiley mean?

Karan (#1376)

Location: Sydney, Australia
Quote: "Quid Quid Latine Dictum Sit, Altum Viditur - Anything said in Latin sounds important"
Posted: 3777 days ago

quite happy to see Roos so high up, though I'd contend he's either wilier or more terrifying than Worsfold since he manages to keep Sydney in the finals and behaving bloody well... :)

Raena (#655)

Location: Tassie
Quote: "whiskey tango foxtrot?"
Posted: 3777 days ago

I would have given Wallace a few more Terrifying points for his curious complexion.

Any moment now I expect a press conference in which his resignation is announced, followed by an unpeeling of the skin and the emergence of an extraterrestrial being. The question then is whether it will be like the ones from Cocoon or the bobbleheaded ones in Doctor Who a few seasons ago.

Machine Man subscriber Dirty Davey (#2170)

Location: Carrboro, NC
Posted: 3777 days ago

I wonder how this generalizes? My man Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles ranks quite high on wily--though to observers he sometimes fails to pick up on some fairly obvious points (RUN THE BALL SOMETIMES), he's definitely a "clever coach".

He's only really terrifying if you happen to be a cheese steak hoagie. And I've never thought of him as particularly lovable.

On the one hand, he's as winning a coach as the franchise has had in a long time. On the other, he can't quite make that last step from PLAYING in the semis or finals to actually WINNING THE GAMES.

Binnsy (#1272)

Location: Sydney, Australia
Quote: "Mmm.... coffee."
Posted: 3777 days ago

Could be worse, Max. You could be a Demons supporter *looks away bashfully*.

Oodge (#2790)

Location: Tas
Quote: "'Ooh look Marge, Maggie lost her baby legs.'"
Posted: 3777 days ago

Hm. There was this one game against the Crows where Wallace created a new game and won, but destroyed football in the process. I think if he'd continued to be so wily we'd be a lot better off. But I don't even watch football anymore, it's just too depressing

Lisa (#3622)

Location: Massachusetts, USA
Posted: 3777 days ago

Well I can't say I know much about the Tigers, since Australian football only gets a tiny bit of air time here in the States, but I can say that as a lifelong fan of the Boston Red Sox (it's a baseball team) I absolutely understand your pain. The team was glorious in the beginning and then--foosh!--went 86 years without a Series win. Eighty. Six. YEARS! Nearly all of the 20th century, plus a bit of the beginning of the 21st. I'm not sure what was more painful, the years when we just sucked outright or the years when we came so close I would start saving up for my championship t-shirt, only to have them fail right at the end. Nevertheless the pain was worth it for the incredible high when success came at last in 2004 (I still cry when I think about it). Keep hope alive, your day will come.

PS I'm a bit surprised "wily" doesn't count for more, but I suppose numbers don't lie.

Kalle (#1278)

Quote: "Sex is herital. If your parents never had it, chanses are you'll never have it either."
Posted: 3777 days ago

Max, sometimes you can be so god dang Australian. :D Kidding aside, AFL IS the best sport. Soccer is an actor's sport, american football is like rugby for wimps(armour and helmets? pfft!), rugby is awesome, and AFL is like rugby but ten times as demanding and violent. If I would have to chose a sport to watch, AFL would be it.

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 3777 days ago

You DO have to choose a sport to watch. So get cracking there Kalle.

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 3777 days ago

> the pain was worth it for the incredible high
> when success came at last

This is what I'm counting on. I just hope I don't die before the success part.

Machine Man subscriber Paula (#3196)

Location: Sydney
Quote: "(insert something witty, eventually...)"
Posted: 3777 days ago

Have you ever read Freakonomics by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner? This post reminded me of that book.

Machine Man subscriber Ian Mond (#2538)

Location: Melbourne
Posted: 3777 days ago

Going by the Melbourne game it looks like the players aren't playing for Wallace anymore. There's no intensity in their game. The fact that they kicked three or four goals in the last six minutes in a sort of cock-tease like effort to win the game, speaks volumes of what the team can do when it actually wants to win.

Personally, I can see you guys beating the Kangaroos next week... but if you don't I'm not sure who you're going to beat.

And I personally believe that any side that has Jordan McMahon in their top 22 is askig to be belted each week*

*The author of this piece is a Carlton supporter and therefore his views are likely to be prejudiced *and* biased

John Reynolds (#2534)

Location: New York, USA
Posted: 3777 days ago

Hey Max. Don't feel too bad, my favorite sport is basketball and my favorite NBA team - due to my close proximity to the city - has been the New York Knicks for my whole life. When I was younger they were always in the mix as a possible championship team, only to usually be crushed by Michael Jordan and the Bulls. Twice they made it to the NBA Finals in my lifetime, only to lose in dramatically heart crushing ways. Now they are completely terrible and the laughing stock of the NBA.

Your post gives me hope though! Their previous coach, Isaiah Thomas, was not in any way likable or terrifying, but, their current coach, Mike D'Antoni, is like a cuddly teddy bear who you don't want to anger for fear of death. Hopefully that means good things are coming.

Antoniolino (#3951)

Location: Federal NSW
Quote: "Its no good being where the ball ain't"
Posted: 3776 days ago

I too experienced the joy as a small child of watching the tiges routinely crush the opposition at the G while chomping silverside sandwiches, only to experience the warp-speed slide into prolonged ineptitude as a moved into adolescence and sorrow-drowning beer consumption.

I too rejoiced at getting a coach who seemed to have some ideas and lucidity after the ambarrassment of Frawley. (who appoints an inarticlate former assistant coach of the wooden spooner? Us thats who).

We are unbelievably bad. Last week was painful, all the more so as I watched the game with my brothers and Dad on the old man's birthday. Dad just sat the, birthday cake in hand, stunned.

Interesting analysis but I disagree to some extent with your conclusion. While I can see the benefits of Bucks, and wouldn't be upset, Damien Hardwick is our man. Consider the following:

Genuinely tough defender - Tick
Played in a successful side - Tick
Menacing - Tick
Articulate - Tick
Low key - Tick
Served a great apprenticeship getting flags at Port and Hawforn - Tick

I also heard on the grapevine he didn't get the Essendon job because his list of sackings was a bit too long for the board.

He's our man.

Richard (#2051)

Location: Boulder, CO
Quote: "...I may not like you, but because some town in Switzerland says so, you have rights!"
Posted: 3776 days ago

I know virtually nothing about Aussie football, but I love this analysis. I'd like to see this applied to sports I'm familiar with...

When I think about it, Bobby Cox, the coach of my favorite baseball team, the Atlanta Braves, is fairly lovable (he's always expressing confidence in his players, and well-wishes to those departing) while still being a bit terrifying (he holds the Major League record for being ejected from games). He's also proven to be wily. Perhaps this explains their relative dominance in the National League in the last 15 years.

Simon (#3192)

Location: Melbourne
Quote: "I'd rather be arrogant than wrong"
Posted: 3775 days ago

Richard (#2051) check out Youtube, there is plenty of Aussie Rules available

Machine Man subscriber Adam (#24)

Location: Morristown, Indiana
Quote: "Why do I blog? Simple, because Max Barry blogs."
Posted: 3774 days ago

Thanks for the apology for this blog. I really do not give a crap.

...hmmm. That was kind of mean of me to say that.

-adam speicher

Machine Man subscriber M.I.Minter (#347)

Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA
Quote: "When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading."
Posted: 3774 days ago

I'd put your misery against being a Detroit Lions fan any day. GQ wrote an article called "the detroit lions: five decades of suck". It's amazing. Also, on tonight's South Park, they wouldn't let a Ginger join their pirate ranks because they said he had no soul. I made me think of you.


Col Counsell (#1836)

Location: Australia
Quote: "It takes a lot of thought - and effort - and downright determinaton to be agreeable (Ray Everson)"
Posted: 3774 days ago

Well, could there be anything sadder than a whimpering, whinging, moaning Richmond supporter who turns on his own team every time they they experience a minor run of sub standard performances - I really don't think so. Consider this - the team has lost FOUR games on the trot - my own team Sydney Swans lost TWENTY SIX, that's right folks TWENTY SIX consecutive games and did anyone ever hear a Swanny supporter moaning - I don't think so and we had to, out of loyalty, sit through the free to air presentation of these weekly slaughters ad infinitum.
And as for the twenty five year drought? Well there again, the Swannies played one final in FORTY years and copped an absolute flogging that day too.
So, come on Max, lift your game and get behind your team. The players are obviously giving their all for you every week and are only getting a bit rattled by the intensity of their need to please you. Their poor play really is an indication of their love for the supporter base.
And, of course Max, if things come to the worst you could always adopt a second, more successful team to provide the fulfillment that you need particularly during the finals - it always worked for me! ... Col

Glenn Barnes (#3959)

Location: Hamilton N.Z.
Quote: "I'm here to uphold democracy not practice it."
Posted: 3773 days ago

Do not believe that Col Counsel chap, I have it on good authority that he did indeed change allegience when the Swans were going through a bad patch. Furthermore he tried to convince me to drop my beloved DEMONS just because they were being robbed by sheep steeling refs, but I remained true to the Blue and Red and now the Demons are on the way back with an excellent win last weekend against the Richmond Tigers.

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 3772 days ago

Well spotted there Glenn. You might have missed this in your eagerness to divert attention from the Swans' horrific performance on the weekend, Lucky Col, but in no way did I criticize the Tigers, or even Terry Wallace, except to observe the unfortunate but undeniable truth that thus far he has been unsuccessful.

Shannon (#3967)

Location: US
Posted: 3769 days ago

Max, I have a question.

I ashamed to admit that I only recently started reading Machine Man (though it is addicting and I can't wait for more) and I have noticed a peculiar trend with your protagonists always falling for...well, crazy women.

6 was almost normal, (and I haven't read Jennifer Government...yet!) but Eve Jantiss was heartless (I enjoyed her backstory) and I don't know much about Cassandra, but she certainly seems evil.

So, I'm wondering: have you been unlucky in love in the past? Do you tend to fall for crazy women? Is your wife crazy?

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 3768 days ago

Love is crazy, man. Love is.

Just Alison (#3971)

Location: Adelaide
Quote: "If yer gonna swaller a frog, it don't pay to look at it too long."
Posted: 3768 days ago

Apologies for the off-topic comment, but this is just too delicious: remember the scene in Company where the staff, err, make their views known to management?

Well, the <a href="">French</a> are doing it for real. If I was still at the radio station, I'd interview you again, for being precognitive (and infuriatingly clever). Alas, all I can do now is threaten with violence the ingrate who's borrowed my copy of Company and won't give it back.

Just Alison (#3971)

Location: Adelaide
Quote: "If yer gonna swaller a frog, it don't pay to look at it too long."
Posted: 3768 days ago

Poot. I'd thought that would show a link. Sorry. Go to Alternet for a story about the French taking Company-style action, anyway. Made me giggle uncontrollably.

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