Queensland Firebirds part ways with coach Bec Bulley after player revolt

Bec Bulley has left the Firebirds

In short:
Super Netball club the Queensland Firebirds and its head coach Bec Bulley will part ways with five weeks left to play in the regular season.

The team is sitting in the bottom two on the ladder for the second consecutive year since Bulley took over, having signed a contract until the end of 2026.

What’s next? Lauren Brown will guide the Firebirds for the interim.
Queensland Firebirds and their head coach Bec Bulley have agreed to part ways, effective immediately, less than halfway into her four-year contract.

ABC Sport can exclusively reveal that Bulley’s axing is the result of mutiny within the Firebirds playing group, after the athletes approached the Australian Netball Players’ Association (ANPA) with concerns about the team’s direction.

The three-time premiers are projected to miss finals for a sixth season running and are in wooden spoon contention for a second year in a row.

Currently, they sit bottom of the ladder with just two wins from nine games.

Bulley’s demeanour in team huddles has been criticised and she has tried to adopt more of an authoritative approach after her players asked for concise and constructive feedback during live play.

Alas, the change in tack hasn’t changed the outcome and the disappointing results have reportedly created a universal disharmony between the athletes and their coach.

In a statement, Netball Queensland chief executive Kate Davies said the decision was not taken lightly and thanked Bulley for her hard work and commitment to the club during her tenure.

“Bec has worked tirelessly since her appointment in July 2022 to foster a positive culture at the club and has helped forge strong links to our club’s past champions.

“It is a legacy she should be extremely proud of.

“With Bec’s passion, experience and work ethic, I am certain she has a bright future in the sport.

“The timing of Bec’s departure is right for her and her family and our focus is supporting her, along with our staff and members of the playing group.”

It has also been a tough year for Bulley off the court.

She missed round six due to a family bereavement and needed current assistant Lauren Brown to step up in her absence.

Last season wasn’t much better, as the team finished in seventh place with just four wins from 14 games.

The start of that campaign was rocked by controversy when then assistant Sara Francis-Bayman departed six days before the Firebirds opening game due to a breakdown in the relationship with Bulley.

The former England Rose was then stuck abroad with no job on a working visa.

Eventually she traded purple for green so she could remain in the country, going on to work as the West Coast Fever’s assistant instead.

Of course, the responsibility for the Firebirds state of play shouldn’t lie totally on Bulley’s shoulders as the players have lacked consistency.

But if everyone in that high-performance set-up is struggling to get on the same page it goes a long way to explaining what’s been happening behind the scenes.

In a previous edition of Super Netball Round-Up, ABC Sport observed that goal shooter Donnell Wallam had lost a bit of her shine and creativity this year.

At the time we couldn’t quite put our finger on why.

Defender Ruby Bakewell-Doran has also been in the news over the past week after she was dropped from the Diamonds squad.

Although the national selectors said her omission was to do with “squad balance” it is likely the Firebirds’ form has played a role.

In her playing days, Bulley won the 2015 World Cup for Australia and a silver medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

The defender retired after a final season with the Giants in 2018, bringing an end to a domestic career that spanned across three different eras of the national netball league.

She represented a long list of clubs and won three premierships in total with the NSW Swifts (2008), Adelaide Thunderbirds (2013) and Firebirds (2015).

After retiring, Bulley turned her attention to coaching, popping up in the NSW state league as the head coach of North Shore United.

In 2020, she took United to a maiden Premier League title and was promptly picked up by the NSW Swifts as an assistant to head coach Briony Akle.

Bulley tasted immediate success in coaching at the Super Netball level, helping the Swifts win the 2021 Super Netball trophy.

Her contribution to that campaign was recognised when she was named as the Community Coach of the Year at the Sport NSW Awards.

By 2022, the Firebirds were circling, after the team had failed to reach finals under the two-year tenure of another former Diamond turned coach, Megan Anderson.

The club showed enormous faith in Bulley’s promise, signing her to a long-term deal that was intended to keep her at the club until at least the end of the 2026 season.

A former top coach, who didn’t want to be named for this story, has told ABC Sport that the club failed to learn from its experience with Anderson.

“It takes time to learn the craft, everyone wants to come out at that sexy level, but there’s nothing sexy about coaching at the top,” they said.

“How many sessions have they taken as the lead of a high-performance program and how much experience do they have dealing with different personalities within a playing group?

“Super Netball is a tough adjustment for someone with limited experience, they really need to spend more time as a head coach at grassroots and come up through the pathways.”

The Firebirds are among just three Super Netball teams without any imports this season, but that doesn’t hold up as an excuse for their poor performance, with the other two all-Australian squads currently sitting in the top four.

While they’re still mathematically in finals contention, three of their five remaining games are against heavyweights: Fever, Thunderbirds and Lightning.

Brown is set to fill in as caretaker coach for Sunday’s match between the Firebirds and Melbourne Mavericks.

Whoever replaces Bulley on a permanent basis has a difficult task ahead, with any long-term decisions on the coaching arrangements at the club to be determined at a future date.

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