THE OUTGOING MELBOURNE COACH REFLECT SON THE DEMONS’ REBUILD, THE MEANING OF A WINNING CULTURE AND HOW TO MAN-MANAGE YOURSELF.
You came to the Demons with a three-year plan. Is the project where you want it to be?
“It was like restructuring a company – the actual structure of the football department and the coaching group was a real priority, and a succession plan was part of that. Putting a very high-level coaching group around the players was extremely important …
“Getting that right has been fundamental to seeing an improvement on the field. We had to do that first. Then the actual on-field stuff is just building your game plan: where it starts, teaching players the fundamentals of the game. In terms of where we’re at win-loss, that’s harder to predict. But ‘rebuild’ of the footy department is more of an apt term rather than how people talk of rebuilding your team.”
“Culture” is a term strewn across sports – as someone so associated with it from your time at the Swans, what’s your definition of it?
“Ultimately, it’s a consistent set of standards and behaviours … If I’m a young player who walks into a footy club, it’s defined by what you see from day one – if there are players late to training, everyone’s on the phone, half the blokes are playing table tennis, whatever it might be. Instead, a young bloke walks in and all the senior players are 15 minutes early and in the gym, or on their off days they're doing boxing or a swim session – what’s visible to a young player when he walks in? It’s fine having slogans on a board, but what does he see? That really defines what culture is.”
The Swans’ John Longmire credits your man-management skills. Is that a personality trait, or something you had to learn?
“When I retired as a player, I didn’t know whether I’d coach. But I wrote down 25 things I liked and didn’t like about coaches. A lot of it was around that: players want to be communicated with. If you want to be a good senior coach, you have to communicate. Hard as it is, you have 44 players and a lot of staff, and you’re going to miss people from time to time.”
How hard was it to keep that list to 25?
“I’ve still got the list in my top drawer. It’s pretty basic, but it reminds me what the players are going through. One here: ‘be strategic at quarter and three-quarter time, don't just verbally abuse players’. It helps you have empathy, and bridges the gap between ages and how long I've been out of the game as a player.”
Knowing your interest in US sports, what are your thoughts on coaching becoming more of a professional path? The AFL still sees ex-players make the transition, but will that go by the wayside in time?
“I think we’re relatively unsophisticated compared to the American model. If you look at the NFL, you start young in statistical analysis or as a wide receiver coach. Then you might build into an offensive line coach, then go onto a senior coach.
“Also, a lot of senior coaches who get sacked over there come back, get another job. That’s the area where we’re unsophisticated – in the history of our game, once you finish, it’s difficult to get back in. If you’ve won a premiership, it’s different. But even a Mark Williams, who’s got a terrific record, hasn’t been able to get back in. We’re always going for new coaches, and it’s such a big jump coming from an assistant coach. I guess that’s why I’m big on succession plans.”
Relating to your role for Adam MacDougall’s Man Challenge, he has an expression: ‘Finding the why’. We would think pro athletes are easily motivated – how do average punters find it?
“What I love about what Adam’s done is he’s simplified it. It can become really complicated … after two weeks, you’re just mentally drained from doing fad diets and extreme fitness workouts. You just don’t feel you can do it.
“Everyone has the ‘why’ fundamentally, I believe – it’s just taking away the impediments. That’s not dissimilar to being a footy coach. Players are great at saying ‘coach doesn’t like me’ or ‘I’m playing in the wrong spot’, or ‘our training is shithouse’. It’s about taking away the excuses for players and saying, ‘Guys, be part of building this program.’”
“Hard as it is, youhave44 players and a lot of staff; you're going to miss people from time to time.”