2020’s AFL coaching storylines
The coaching landscape in the AFL has become one of the most fascinating things to observe each season. There’s never been more scrutiny and discussion on the men in charge of their teams. It’s also never been a more team-focused role.
Gone are the days of the senior coach being the be-all and end-all of decision-making.
As we get closer to the 2020 AFL season, I take a look at some of the key questions sitting inside the coaches box.
How will the baton change work for Bombers?I have some concerns for Essendon this year but my reservations aren’t because of the coaching handover from John Worsfold to Ben Rutten. This change looks to be one that will work because the senior coach, John, is comfortable with it.
From there, the entire club needs to know who’s in charge right now and that looks to be the case at the Bombers. At Collingwood, when Mick Malthouse was handing over to Nathan Buckley, it was clear not everyone was on the same page and it just didn’t work.
The big question next year for the Bombers is can Ben Rutten coach? He has good pedigree, and he will get a great opportunity to learn this year, but until he gets in that hot seat we just won’t know.
The Bombers made the finals in 2019 but I have some concerns this year because of the lack of preparation and continuity over the pre-season for some of their key players.
We saw with Melbourne last year that when you can’t get everyone together on the park it is just so hard to keep up and even harder to catch up with the competition. They just have to find a way to win games early despite their manpower issues.
What’s keeping new coaches up at night?There will be so much going through their minds when they put their head on the pillow. It might sound odd, but the thing keeping them up most will be winning.
Having said that, a team in a development phase can actually win games too early. What I mean by that is that the art of coaching is setting your club up to contend for a premiership. You can make the top eight on talent but you win flags with system.
Young coaches – even some more experienced coaches – will feel pressure to keep the media off their back by winning games on talent. But the really good coaches need to understand what wins premierships and then teach their players how to do that.
At the Bulldogs, Luke Beveridge came in on the back of Brendan McCartney. Macca taught contested ball and that “win your own footy” brand before Bevo added the outside game with some very shrewd moves and the development of Jason Johannisen and Dale Morris to half back.
Even at Sydney, when I took over from Rodney Eade, there were parts of his style that helped us have success. Rocket liked to let the boys play and then we built up the structures that underpinned our premiership. The advice I would give to all new coaches in 2020 is; ‘plan for a premiership, don’t coach to keep your name off the back page of the papers’.
Which new coach is in the best position?It’s incredible we’ve got so many new faces in the coaching ranks heading into the season. I think because we have seen what Rhyce Shaw and Brett Ratten have been able to do they are probably the most advanced.
I really liked the tweaks Rhyce made at the Kangaroos in the second half of last year. I love that Ratts has been given another chance at it and his experience will really help him at the Saints. He has great knowledge of the game, is a teacher, and their list has been bolstered with good recruiting.
Brad Hill is a star of the competition and his impact could be telling – his running power transforms a team and the Saints really need a player of his powers.
At the Blues, with David Teague winning the job, I think he’s got the most work to do. Under Brendon Bolton, they were just bereft of belief and Teaguey stripped it right back to help in the short term. Whether he’s got all the parts to make them competitive week in, week out this season is yet to be seen. I am not sure where they are placed in the medium to long-term. He needs to be really clear on that strategy and stick with his vision as they embark on this campaign.
Matthew Nicks at Adelaide will strip things right back while Justin Longmuir is in a similar position at Fremantle. The Dockers, in particular, rely on their best player in Nat Fyfe and I see them as a work in progress.
Which club will ring Ross Lyon first?I don’t know who will pick up the phone to Rossy first, but I do know he will get a call at some stage this season from a club.
We talk about footy a lot but I honestly don’t know his plans or motivations to get back involved at this stage. He still has great passion for the game and his understanding of where footy is trending is second to none. If I had to name which team will be in a position to try and tempt him first it’s probably Port Adelaide.
Ken Hinkley has put himself and the team under pressure with his bold claims for the year of finals or bust. As soon as you throw the burley in your own swimming pool, the sharks are going to circle. The landscape can change so dramatically it’s hard to predict anything with great certainty on the coaching front.
Alastair Clarkson’s name seems to get thrown up every year and even though he’s denied having done enough at Hawthorn on many occasions, I’m sure his phone will also be ringing by season’s end.
More about: Adelaide Crows | AFL | Alastair Clarkson | Ben Rutten | Brett Ratten | Carlton Blues | Coaching | David Teague | Fremantle Dockers | John Worsfold | Justin Longmuir | Matthew Nicks | North Melbourne Kangaroos | Paul Roos | Rhyce Shaw | Ross Lyon | St Kilda Saints