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Who are the AFL's greatest ever coaches?

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Roar Guru
3rd August, 2021
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With a number of AFL clubs considering new mentors for next year, I thought it useful to assess who are the greatest coaches since 1945.

To do this, I narrowed down the number of coaches with the criteria that they must have coached for at least ten years and have delivered two or more premierships.

The weighting of metrics used are the number of premierships (weight of 35%), win-loss ratio in finals (30% weight), win-loss ratio in home and away (25% weight), number of premierships coached by proteges of the coach (7.5% weight) and number of Brownlow Medal winners that a coach has overseen (weighting of 2.5%).

On this basis, I have ranked the coaches as follows:

1. Norm Smith
2. Tom Hafey
3. Allan Jeans
4. Ron Barassi
5. John Kennedy
6. Leigh Matthews
7. Kevin Sheedy
8. Alastair Clarkson
9. Dick Reynolds
10. David Parkin
11. Damian Hardwick
12. Mick Malthouse
13. Dennis Pagan
14. Malcolm Blight
15. Reg Hickey
16. Perce Bentley
17. Mark Thompson
18. Phonse Kyne

Nathan Buckley and Mick Malthouse

Nathan Buckley and Mick Malthouse (Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images)

Unsurprisingly, Norm Smith is king of the coaches, with six premierships for Melbourne in their golden run from 1955 to 1964. Also of note is his outstanding win-loss ratio in finals, at 2:1, which exceeded his overall home and away ratio of 1.29:1.

Most of these coaches have win-loss ratios in home and away exceeding that of finals but it seems that the bigger the occasion, the more Smith’s coaching thrived. Where Smith was not as successful was in producing premiership coaches and Brownlow Medalists, although with a total team-first ethos, the latter was not a huge consideration.

Interestingly, in second place is Tom Hafey. Apart from his four premierships, Hafey had a successful finals win-loss ratio of 1.5:1, to go alongside his 1.88:1 win-loss ratio in home and away matches.


Moreover, Hafey was successful in producing premiership-winning proteges, notably Kevin Sheedy.

Surprisingly, Allan Jeans is ahead of Ron Barassi, with the latter generally regarded as the doyen of modern coaches. Jeans has the slight edge over Barassi in finals win-loss performance and a clearer advantage in home and away win-loss ratio.

Barassi slots comfortably in number four however, followed by John Kennedy.

There is something of a logjam in the queue with, for example, David Parkin ranked tenth and Mick Malthouse 12th, even though there is not much difference in the scores between these two and the first couple.

Like coaching itself, this exercise is a game of inches. Once we get past the first 13, where there is little room to manouevre, there is a significant gap in scores.

Of the current crop two make the cut, Alastair Clarkson and Damian Hardwick are at eighth and 11th place respectively. Clarkson is one of the fewer coaches with a finals win-loss ratio greater than his overall home and away ratio, and the same can be said of , which is a tribute to their success and longevity. Should either of them continue to deliver premierships, that will put them in rarefied air.

In addition, it should be noted that neither have really had the chance to produce their own dynasties of successful premiership coaches.