The greatest VFL/AFL coaches of all time
Ron Barassi addresses the Melbourne Demons at the break during a 1980's VFL match.
It’s been an interesting year for myself. I knew it was coming, but recently one of my idols and the greatest manager/coach of all time retired in Sir Alex Ferguson.
So it got me thinking, who are the best coaches in the history of the VFL/AFL?
Now before I start this article, be aware of my age (21) in terms of knowledge and where I live and was brought up (WA). Personal context will always influence thoughts and beliefs.
For this I’ll keep in mind a couple of things. First, how skilful the coach was in terms of tactics, being ahead of their time, speaking skills, managing egos, lifting players through sheer presence and coping under pressure.
Then what they were given must be counted. The list, as well as the the facilities and resources at hand.
So here we go, the greatest VFL/AFL coaches of all time.
Fitness fanatic even still at the age of 81, With stints also at Collingwood, Geelong and Sydney, his best work was at Punt Rd.
Hafey took the Tigers to four flags in eight seasons from 1967 to 1974.
A member of the Austalian Hall of Fame, Hafey was given a bright, young list and took the game to new levels through his pre seasons and ability to get his players his fit as possible.
With a kicking game that revolved around superstar Royce Hart, Hafey must make this list.
Trench coat on and as sharp as ever, McHale has probably the greatest ever record.
As coach of Collingwood from 1912-1949, 713 games for 466 wins, including 59 finals, 17 grand finals and 8 premierships.
Perhaps a poor strike rate in grand finals as harsh as that is, the stats do not lie as they sometimes do.
Coached some of the greats like Gordon Coventry and the Collier brothers and will go down in history as a legend.
As with every sportsmen, the public will remember what happened most recently. Forget his stint at St Kilda though, at Geelong in four losing grand finals, and then performing the hardest task in sport which is going back to back with the first ever interstate side to do so in the Crows, Blight must make this list.
A great tactician, he used his gun forwards like Gary Ablett and Tony Modra to full effect, but also showed great skill with moves such as swinging Shane Ellen forward in the 1997 grand final, kicking five goals to win the game.
Still at the GWS with much to prove with that squad of talent, but his work obviously at Windy Hill is why he makes this list. Basically,made three different teams to win flags in 84-84, 93 and then that amazing 2000 side.
Probably the best at using the media to his advantage, and showed us how valuable indigenous players can be when treated and coached in the right way.
Pagans Paddock is famous. Make space and kick it to Wayne Carey.
But there’s much more than that. Recognising the personalities of Carey and the North boys (they liked to party and have a drink) he didn’t restrict them, rather ensured they had both business and pleasure.
Was also amazing with nine years in the Under 19s at an 80% winning level, and North have never been the same with out him.
North took 50 years to win a flag. It was this guy that did it. He knew what it took to win and wouldn’t accept anything else.
The 1974 GF for North fans is a painful one, but Barassi used it as catayst for two flags in 75 and 77 as well as grand finals in 76 and 78.
Sam Kekovich said he had a sixth sense and made people lift as soon as he entered the environment, and you’d have to take his word for it.
Prior to North, he coaches Carlton to their first flag in 21 years in 1968 and then in 1970, in the best comeback of them all, 44 points down against the Pies at Halftime, he pulls off the miracle.
Introduces the handball and how effective it can be, and inspires young Teddy Hopkins off the pine to be the match winner. Legend.
Plenty left to do at Carlton, but over in the west he helped the Eagles overcome Victorian dominance, and then took an average Collingwood list to grand finals in 02, 03 (beaten by the greatest team of all time) before winning finally in 2010 on the back of an amazing game plan based around pressure and ruthlessness.
Amazing thinker and also a clever user of the media, the silver fox was an easy choice.
Everyone knows what he did at Brisbane. Was able to manage superstars of the comp such as Michael Voss, Simon Black and Johnathan Brown, but also got the best out of unique personalities and backgrounds like Jason Akermanis, Alastair Lynch and Martin Pyke before it was too late.
He also took the Pies to glory in 1990, finally shaking the Colliwobbles off their back.
An underrated coach in history I feel. Put the Swans on the map and helped create a culture that is still there now. Ross Lyon and John Longmire are two products of him and it’s no coincidence.
Not many liked his coaching style but it was effective and he got the best out of his players. Showed how valuable picking up players from others clubs can be when building a side.
There’s a reason the medal is named after him. From 1955-64, Smith won six flags at Melbourne, very nearly equally Collingwood’s record of four in a row. Known as the Demon Dictator for his strict approach, a record like his makes the list alone.
The Saints have one flag, which they won in 1966. This guy coached them then.
He then took the Hawks through the 80s winning four flags and using his great speaking ability to inspire them to greatness. seven straight grand finals is phenomenal.
Not only won three Brownlows, but 275 wins from 415 games including four flags as player/coach.
An underrated pat of history and his humility elevated him even more.
Took the cats back to back in 1951-52 (very rare thing to happen and even the great Cats can’t do it at the moment (yet)).
An outstanding leader, he also coaches the side to 23 wins in a row which is still a record.
Fierce and uncompromising, Parko was a nutcase but it worked and his sides at both Hawthorn and Carlton were amazing.
The 1995 Carlton side lost one game the whole season. One solitary game.
Revolutionised the game in terms of what goes on during the week at clubs with feed back and analysis of the last game played.
Honourable mentions to Frank Hughes, John Kennedy Snr and the harshly criticised Mark Thompson.
Modern day coaches I will say have it far tougher due to hotter competition and pressure.
They do have better resources and teams around them though, although that is sometimes not a positive. You had to have coached for a decent amount of time and won flags to make this list.
“I’m a dinosaur, an absolute dinosaur but what I am is a winner,” – Sir Alex Ferguson