A Creed Worthy Coach

As news reports once again circulate about the future of Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley and a possible succession plan to his senior assistant Josh Carr, I thought it a good time to look back at successful Port Adelaide coaches. John Cahill and Fos Williams are undoubtedly the most significant and the ethos they created leaves clues as to what Port should be looking for in a coach. This is not about Ken Hinkley, or Josh Carr, because quite frankly the club is bigger than the individuals. Long term members don’t really care who is the coach, they care about results. And they know that the blueprint for consistent results at the Port Adelaide Football Club has been long laid down, and recently seemingly ignored. 

So let’s look at the demands on a PAFC coach as defined by the mission, creed and statement of intent in the context of both the obligations of the board and the coach. 

  1. We Exist To Win Premierships

The Board: A board that exists to win premierships is obligated to not be satisfied with minor round win percentages. They should focus extra attention on seeking coaches and coaching groups that have experienced success on the biggest stage both as players and as coaches. The benchmark should be the rate of premiership success of the best performed AFL clubs. 

The Coach: A coach that exists to win premierships for the Port Adelaide Football Club is obligated to create a list, a team and a game plan that can both get us to, and stand up on, the biggest stage. This means winning enough games to make finals (preferably top 4), consistently winning big finals (at minimum 3 in 4 are needed in one year are needed to win a flag) and the ability to win a grand final. This has not been the case in recent years with just 2 finals wins in the last decade. 

The Verdict: The current custodians of the Port Adelaide Football Club have been able to achieve above average minor round success but have been disappointing when it comes to consistently winning big finals. The coaches and board need to adapt or move on. 

  1. We Are Active and Aggressive

The Board: The board should be consistently asking itself, who is the best coach to take Port Adelaide to premiership success and chasing that person. Both senior and assistant coaches should be scouted on a regular basis and the best person to take Port Adelaide to premiership success chased after aggressively. Once found that person should be supported and expected to chase continued improvement and development in the search of the ultimate glory. 

The Coach: The coach should be active in their search for improvement, be that players, assistants, specialist coaches, tactics, communication styles or mindsets. This includes creating a game plan that aims to kick goals and win games, not just negate the opposition.

The Verdict: The perception, real or otherwise, is that the Port Adelaide board and coaching staff are not active enough in their search for improvement. If we were to assess both according to Carol Dweck’s famous book Mindset. Both the board and the coaching group would seem to be the very definition of a fixed mindset. Resistant to feedback, reluctant to take on learning opportunities, reluctant to change in the face of evidence and threatened by “outsiders”. Their continued preference for internal candidates rather than chasing the best available seems to be ample evidence of this. The adoption of a growth mindset and the active seeking of external feedback and experience seem desperately needed by both the board and the coach. 

  1. We Accept Our Heritage

The Board: A board that truly understands the Port Adelaide heritage should see it as a guiding light to future success rather than an inconvenient historic relic. They would understand that success leaves clues and that at the Port Adelaide Football Club, thanks to the diligence of their predecessors, the clues have been laid out more clearly than most. Rather than being threatened by the past, these clues should be studied carefully and applied to the current AFL world. Whilst the frequency of premiership success may be different in a National Competition, the “striving to our utmost and giving our everything” both on and off field need not be. 

The Coach: A coach that accepts the Port Adelaide heritage demands his coaching and playing team live to the high standards necessary to remain the most successful football club in Australia. They don’t look and talk enviously about other clubs’ history and success, they demand our success is continued here. 

The Verdict: The current custodians of the Port Adelaide Football Club seem very averse to being compared to any historical successes of the past. Rather than see it as an ideal to aspire to they seem to see it as a noose to be hung by. The premiership frequency of “the most successful football club in Australia” may look different in a national competition but the culture that gets us there need not be. Historically the club was not averse to looking outside its own walls to find the absolute best available candidates for success (see Fos Williams from West Adelaide). Perhaps it is time to do so again?

  1. We Are Devoted To The Cause

The Board: As an outsider the devotion of the board is a difficult one to ascertain. The perception of a board beholden to the wishes of the AFL (the true “members” under the constitution) though is that their devotion may be diluted. Especially when some board members are known supporters of other clubs, other board members are employed by people with significant vested interests in other clubs, and the majority of the board can be removed at any time by the AFL (who may or may not see a PAFC premiership as being in their best interest). And which cause are they devoted to? Winning premierships? Or the newly added “making the community proud”? Do they seek a coach to maintain financial stability for the AFL or to win premierships for Port Adelaide? It seems unclear. 

The Coach: A coach devoted to the cause is one prepared to turn over every leaf and continually learn and improve in the search of premiership success. The current coach by his own words is resistant to learn, resistant to change (famously stating “I wouldn’t change a thing” after yet another finals loss) and resistant to prioritising football in his and his players’ life. 

The Verdict: From the outside looking in it would seem that the devotion once demanded at the Port Adelaide Football Club is now seen as an outdated model, an unrealistic ideal in a modern world and maybe even an unhealthy obsession. A premiership is no longer considered to be the “great merit and noble achievement” it once was but merely a nice addition, if possible, on top of an already successful life. Where previous generations found their purpose and happiness in upholding the clubs “envious traditions”, the current coaches and players are encouraged to find their satisfaction elsewhere. Perhaps a reconnect to the purpose and passion is required to see that striving for premiership success and life happiness are not mutually exclusive. 

5.  We Clean Out The No-Hopers

The Board: At a club that exists to win premierships and has failed to do so for 20 years and failed to make a grand final for 17, the board seems surprisingly stagnant, as does their approach to the senior coach. 

The Coach: The longest serving coach at one club without premiership success (or even a grand final appearance). 

The Verdict: The club appears stale and the members and commentators seem to agree. Perhaps it is time for a maximum term on the board? Perhaps it is time for a new head coach in the box?

6. We Agree That Success Is Well Within Our Reach

The Board: I applaud the board for their “chasing greatness plan”. It was bold and brave just like the Port Adelaide Football club of our predecessors. Unfortunately it seems that the plan was just words. My criticism of the plan is not that it was not fulfilled, that was never a sure thing. My criticism stems from the club’s lack of willingness to be held to the standard. There is no point making such a bold claim, then shying away from it when it is not fulfilled, that is like making demands of your child, only to do nothing when they fail to comply. The real benefit of the plan is when light is shone on where it fell short, when lessons are learnt and when people are made accountable (including the head coach). Instead it seems to have been tucked in the bottom drawer in the hope that everyone would forget about it. 

The Coach: A coach that feels success is well within our reach should not be calling games “scary”, telling his troops they have “a long way to go’” or declaring he is not looking forward to upcoming encounters. One of Port Adelaide’s most successful coaches John Cahill was renowned for making his players feel “10 foot tall and bulletproof”. “How can they beat us” he would say. Perhaps Ken should pick up the phone for some tips?

The Verdict: The club talks the talk but doesn’t seem prepared to walk the walk. Success is well within our reach, but only if we are prepared to remember that ‘We Are Port Adelaide”. If the current incumbents feel that it is too hard in the modern national environment, perhaps it is time they are replaced by those who do not. 

So here we are. As Yogi Berra famously said “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” We sit in the same position we have for a number of years. Seemingly close, but not close enough when it comes to beating the best teams in the biggest games. 

The board has a choice to make. Do they back the current coach? Do they promote the senior assistant to take the reins or do they look for the best available coach nationwide?

The coach has a decision to make. Will he be active and aggressive? Dedicated to the cause? Will he learn from history? Will he create a positive passion and expectation around future success? Or is it time to fall on his sword?

It is going to be an interesting year at the Port Adelaide Football Club, both on the field and in the boardroom. Success has left clues. Let’s just hope they are picked up!






One response to “A Creed Worthy Coach”

  1. Chris Hill Avatar

    Hear , hear !!!! After 58 years of PAID up membership of our ONCE great Club , having close & personal relationships with a lot of our players i now find I’m ignored by The ‘SO called hierarchy ‘ for making comments about the lack of TRUE Port Adelaide commitment !!! I am now regarded as a dianasour & just a number !!

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