The greatest VFL/AFL coaches of all time

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    Ron Barassi addresses the Melbourne Demons at the break during a 1980's VFL match.

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    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.

    Tom Hafey
    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.

    Jock McHale
    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.

    Malcom Blight
    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.

    Kevin Sheedy
    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.

    Dennis Pagan
    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.

    Ron Barassi
    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.

    Mick Malthouse
    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.

    Leigh Matthews
    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.

    Paul Roos
    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.

    Norm Smith
    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.

    Allan Jeans
    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.

    Dick Reynolds
    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.

    Reg Hickey
    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.

    David Parkin
    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

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    The Crowd Says (14)

    • June 14th 2013 @ 2:15am
      Johnno said | June 14th 2013 @ 2:15am | ! Report

      Up there Cazaly, Coached South Melbourne (now sydney swans) and Hawthorn. He nicknamed the “Hawks” as he saw it as tougher than their original nickname the “Mayblooms”. Legend player and inspiring coach.

      Malcom Blight was special and a good coach, kinda like the Jose Moreno the spcial one Blight was of AFL coaching, he could produce genius game plans and tactics. My Blight with Leigh Matthews is, he had an unbelievably talented Brisbane lion’s side, the envy of the whole AFL. Where as Malcom Blight didn’t have the same in your comfort zones at the Adelaide Crows, that Leigh Matthews enjoyed at Geelong. Grahame Cornes was an underrated coach, and he had some very bad luck at Adelaide Crows, and deserved a Grand final spot , and a flag in the 90’s. Corne’s Adelaide crows blew a massive 42 point lead vs the star studded minor premiers Essendon at half time, to end up losing by 11, in heartbreaking circumstances. The bomber’s went on to wint he flag and cement Sheedy in AFL folklore.
      Corne’s Adelaide crow’s played some champagne footy , with Tony Modra flying high, and the likes of the inspirational Darren Jarman. Cornes could get the best out of his players, and went very close to a grand final
      Other AFL coaches could of won titles, up there. He kept the ego’s in check well up there, but had many run in’s with Ackermanis, who Leigh Matthews did struggle to keep Aker in line a lot. He could coach Leigh but he had such talented roster. We are seeing similar struggles with Wayne Bennett now at Newcastle , not having such star studded rosters, like at the Broncos especially, or the Dragons.

      So for me Malcom Blight is the best I have seen. I have a soft spot for Terry Wallace, he went might close at times with an average Western Bulldog’s side. He would of done well in a star studded Brisbane Lion”s side like Leigh Matthews had.

      Mick Malthouse

      • June 14th 2013 @ 4:33am
        Johnno said | June 14th 2013 @ 4:33am | ! Report

        I meant what Leigh Matthews enjoyed at Brisbane Lion’s that roster “not Geelong ” typing error.

      • Roar Rookie

        June 14th 2013 @ 5:09am
        darcytrainor said | June 14th 2013 @ 5:09am | ! Report

        It’s all about timing and a bit of luck too I guess John.

    • Roar Rookie

      June 14th 2013 @ 4:14am
      darcytrainor said | June 14th 2013 @ 4:14am | ! Report

      Could perhaps swap John Kennedy Snr with Roos, but it’s hard as Roos is in my more recent memory.

      Robert Walls was close but a few things he did puts me off adding him to the list.

    • Roar Rookie

      June 14th 2013 @ 4:16am
      darcytrainor said | June 14th 2013 @ 4:16am | ! Report

      Also, SANFL coaches such as ones from Port Adelaide during their ridiculous success and ones from the WAFL like Haydn Bunton Jnr and John Todd deserve praise but the VFL/AFL was and is the pinnacle of Australian Football.

    • June 14th 2013 @ 7:00am
      Brendan said | June 14th 2013 @ 7:00am | ! Report

      Arguably Mark Thompson should be on the list .Breaking a 44 year premiership hoodoo winning two flags out of three Grand Finals.Norm Smith is the greatest coach 6 flags and only two runners up at Melbourne, successful stint at Fitzroy and got South Melbourne into the finals.Blight only coached Geelong in three Grand Finals , Ayres was coach in 1995, and he had very little luck at the Cats but the gods were on his side at Adelaide.

    • June 14th 2013 @ 9:11am
      Nick Inatey said | June 14th 2013 @ 9:11am | ! Report

      No John Kennedy?

    • June 14th 2013 @ 10:15am
      Chaos said | June 14th 2013 @ 10:15am | ! Report

      Don’t think Roos should be on list but since he is Worsfold & Roos must go hand in hand. 05/06 and the rivallry of those teams and the close margins of that era.

      If you include SANFL you have to mention John Cahil. He did have a stint in 80’s with Collingwood from memory.

      Cornes (as mentioned in a different post) was a great coach. His SANFL with Glenelg from 1985-1990 before Crows started was two flags and 3 runners-up.

      • June 14th 2013 @ 11:50am
        Franko said | June 14th 2013 @ 11:50am | ! Report

        Cahill took Collingwood, who had finished 10th in 82’ with just 4 wins, to 12 wins the following season and one spot out of finals, the next year they made it to a prelim but were destroyed by a very good Essendon outfit in their premiership year. Collingwood brought Bob Rose in after that and again missed the finals whilst Cahill went back to Port (via West) to carry on winning premierships (10 in total). His record at Collingwood in terms of win loss is slightly better than Mick Malthouses.

      • June 17th 2013 @ 12:48am
        Jax said | June 17th 2013 @ 12:48am | ! Report

        Agree 100%, I would not have Roos on this list either but if darcy insists Worsfold has to be included. Good article

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