Director of Coaching, Development and Performance
At Carlton : 2016 -
Playing Career : Norwood, Sturt, North Adelaide (SANFL) 321 games, 220 goals
Coaching Career : Games (W-L-D)
2004-2011 Adelaide 166 (92-74-0)
2013 Melbourne 11 (1-10-0)
DOB : January 11, 1956
In the wake of Brendon Bolton’s appointment as senior coach of Carlton in August 2015, there were major changes made to the entire coaching panel, including the employment of vastly-experienced former Adelaide and Melbourne coach Neil Craig as Director of Coaching, Development and Performance.
Born in Adelaide in 1956, Craig played his first game of SANFL football as a 17 year-old in 1973. Over the next 17 seasons he chalked up a total of 321 senior matches for three clubs - Norwood, Sturt and North Adelaide - and kicked 220 goals. He was a member of Norwood’s 1975 and 1978 Premiership teams, and represented South Australia in 11 State of Origin matches, twice as captain.
At the height of his career in 1981 Craig was drafted by Footscray, but decided not to pursue an AFL career. When he retired from the field in 1990, he went straight into coaching at Norwood, while completing his studies for a degree in sports science. In 1997, Craig joined the Adelaide Crows, and was credited as the architect of a fitness scheme that took the club to consecutive AFL flags in 1997 and ’98.
Craig took leave from the Crows in 1999 to help the Australian Olympic cycling team prepare for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. When he returned, he took up the role of assistant coach under Gary Ayres. Four years later, Ayres abruptly resigned mid-season, and Craig stepped in as the Crows’ caretaker coach. At the end of 2004 he was appointed to the position full-time, and took his team to Preliminary Finals in his first two seasons in charge. The Crows went on to play finals football in five consecutive seasons under Craig, but with the limited success of three wins and six losses. In July 2011, in the midst of a form slump by his team, Craig quit after a 103-point loss to St Kilda. At that time he was the longest-serving coach in the Crows' history.
Almost immediately after leaving Adelaide, Craig was signed as the Director of Sports Performance at the Melbourne Football Club, where his primary task was to mentor the younger players and the assistant coaches. Barely two years later, in a repeat of the circumstances that had occurred at Adelaide, Demons coach Mark Neeld was sacked before the midpoint of the 2013 season, and Craig was again pitched into the hot seat. Not surprisingly, Melbourne won just one game in the second half of the season, before Craig was relieved of his position and Paul Roos took over.
Believing that the incoming coach should have a clean slate to work with, Craig left Melbourne, but in a somewhat puzzling decision, joined another team in trouble at Essendon. The Bombers were still being dogged by an on-going investigation into performance-enhancing drug use at the club. With only a handful of wins, Essendon underwent a horror year in 2015, and Craig was just one of a number of players and support staff who were anxious to depart when the season ended.
Meanwhile, Carlton had also endured an awful season, but concrete steps toward recovery were already in place, and the approach to Craig probably came at precisely the right time.