A Little Help Please: AFL Coaching Staff Changes Ahead of 2022
Recently, Simon Goodwin became the 54th VFL/AFL coach to ever win a premiership and while the South Australian’s role in ending Melbourne’s 57-year premiership drought can’t be underestimated, the contribution his entire coaching team played was just as profound.
It indeed takes a village to raise a child, and in the spirit of that quote, let’s take a look at the shifting landscape of AFL coaching departments as we head into 2022.
In contrast to the fireworks which usually emanate from most things Collingwood related, their appointment of Craig McRae as coach was notably low-key.
After finishing as poorly as they ever have in 125 seasons the Pies have fully embraced their need for a rebuild and thrown the highly decorated assistant and triple-premiership player into the hot-seat. To assist McRae the Pies have gone all-in on experience bringing in both Justin Leppitsch and Brendan Bolton who've had a combined seven seasons of experience as AFL coaches.
Like Collingwood, Hawthorn have also turned to a rookie coach to help them navigate their new standing in the AFL world. In comes 4-time premiership Hawk Sam Mitchell to replace the 17-season, ludicrously successful Alastair Clarkson tenure. Like the Pies, Hawthorn have also been conscious of providing Mitchell with plenty of experience and will surround their new coach with Robert Harvey, Adrian Hickmott and David Hale, all of whom have dense assistant and decorated playing resumes.
In Damien Hardwick, Richmond have the most experienced and successful coach in the AFL yet that hasn’t stopped them investing in talent around him. They added recently-exiled Carlton coach David Teague to their staff while they still have both Adam Kingsley and Xavier Clarke- two young assistants with massive warps and who’ll perhaps land head coaching gigs of their own soon enough.
I want a job
While Collingwood, Hawthorn and Richmond opted for security and experience in their off-season moves, Fremantle and St Kilda went a little bolder in their bids to break back into finals contention. Each have shaken up their coaching complexion luring a couple of the league’s most highly-touted assistants to help Justin Longmuir and Brett Ratten respectively.
In Fremantle’s case the Dockers were able to bring Jaymie Graham across town after the former Eagle was heavily linked with head coach openings at both Carlton and Collingwood. He’ll be in charge of resurrecting a Fremantle forward line which has ranked bottom-4 for six-straight seasons. It’s the perfect challenge for Graham and one that if he can succeed would put him at the front of the queue where vacant head coaching positions are concerned.
At Moorabbin the Saints have persuaded 3-time premiership winning Cat and 6-time All-Australian Corey Enright to cross Port Philip Bay and take charge of the beleaguered St Kilda backline. The Saints haven’t possessed a top-8 defence since 2012 and if Enright can remedy this massive shortcoming, his name, like Graham’s, will vault into contention for more illustrious gigs.
Rolling the Dice
There were a couple of rather curious assistant coaching appointments this off-season, though none more eyebrow-raising than what the always difficult-to-read Western Bulldogs got up to.
The grand final runner’s up parted ways with both Ashley Hansen (Carlton) and Steven King (Gold Coast), turning to AFL journeyman Matthew Spangher to head up their forward line despite possessing relatively little sous chef experience. Meanwhile the Dogs are still without a midfield coach which needless to say is a vacancy that needs to be addressed rather quickly.
Speaking of surprises, the usually air-tight Geelong decided to shake things up a little this off-season. They toyed with bringing in Ross Lyon while also bidding farewell to both Matthew Knights (West Coast) and Corey Enright (St Kilda) while Matthew Scarlett has decided to take a year away from the club. In comes the legendary Eddie Betts, while former Cats Matthew Eagan, Shanon Byrnes and James Kelly have all returned to Kardinia Park.
It would have been Ross Lyon joining Geelong but Alex Rance teaming up with the Bombers was the most jaw-dropping off-season move where AFL assistant coach manoeuvrings were concerned.
Essendon of course made massive strides in Ben Rutten’s first season and will add Rance to a coaching team which contains a couple of the league’s most sort-after and respected lieutenants in Daniel Giansiracusa and Blake Caracella and which has also lured Dale Tapping back to Victoria having coached the Brisbane Lion midfield over the last five seasons.
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