Why do I want to put my head back in the noose of AFL coaching with Carlton?
Simply because, like a beautiful, big mountain, it is there.
If I lined up four readers and said there is a main road out the front and you have to cross it, but only three will get across, not many people would go because they fear it. And they should fear it.
K2 is the second-highest mountain in the world, but the most difficult to climb. For every four climbers who have reached the summit, one has died trying.
If you lined up all of the AFL’s coaches and players and asked who wanted to go, all of them would because it’s the challenge.
It’s a challenge you do fear, but you fear not taking it and you fear failure. But you open up your blinds, you open your door and that mountain is still in front of you.
It is important, firstly, to note that I have never likened a premiership to anything other than still part of the journey.
I spoke to a very good footballer last week who played in three premierships and he said he was exactly the same.
A premiership is far from a destination. When I’ve won premierships, I’ve felt total relief, but never a lot of satisfaction. It’s almost like you’ve ticked a task and you move on to the next one.
Satisfaction is retirement and one of the great things about life is learning from your mistakes.
I played in some very good football sides and I played in some poor football sides. I played very well, I played very poorly. I played with discipline, I played undisciplined. I played injured, I played fit.
As a player, you want to play in every premiership and you want to be the best player. It does not happen. But all the ups and downs, and the downs in particular, you have to learn from.
I’m very fortunate to have played and to have transformed that into being a coach because I now look at it and I don’t think there are many scenarios that a player can come to me with that I haven’t encountered — good, bad, or indifferent.
I wasn’t a great footballer, but I got the best out of myself and I’ve lived it. However, the player in me died the day I retired in 1983. I never wanted to play again because I went straight into coaching, which I see as an extension of playing.
I never missed it because my body was telling me I couldn’t go another yard. My whole body virtually collapsed after I finished playing. My shoulders ached, my knees wouldn’t let me run, my ankles were screaming at me and even my fingers were aching.
In my last game, they all came home to haunt me. You’ve gone through it and you’ve held on as a player until your last gasp.
As a coach, I don’t think I’ll have that last gasp until I actually take my last gasp. While the physical dies as a player, the mental will always be ticking as a coach until the day I die.
I still see the mountain and it’s still not climbed.
I still recall ringing the great Allan Jeans just hours before he died and I was speaking to a coach. He was even still talking to me about my coaching on his death bed. It was still part of him.
I’m a great admirer of legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi, who just kept on keeping on. He died prematurely, but he died a coach.
The simple fact is that I’ve got a burning desire to see the teams I coach succeed. It comes with a simple philosophy: I don’t want to be the best coach, but I want to be the coach of the best side.
While you have that, you have a “we” and not “I” mentality. You stand together as you strive to see people maximise the talents they’ve got and the want they’ve got.
If we had won the 2011 premiership with Collingwood, I’m not sure what my mindset would have been like in relation to taking on the Blues job. If it had happened and I’d seen it as a destination, that would have been it for coaching. Obviously, it didn’t and I haven’t.
One thing I can say clearly is that I’m not going to make a fool of myself by jumping back into coaching half-hearted. And it’s got absolutely nothing to do with what happened at Collingwood, it’s about what can be achieved going forward. Some people may think this, but I’m not a rear-vision looker, I look through the windscreen and all I see is the road in front of me.
I must wear a target and I know at times I polarise the media. People who don’t really know me see someone they’re not sure of, but those who do know me see me in a totally different light.
So to the truth about making this decision with my family.
It was a continuous thing because I did not know the opportunity at Carlton was going to come up. I had real thoughts that my time as a coach had finished at the end of last year.
You don’t make plans for October and November, like we had, if you know you’re contemplating coaching again.
My family knows my fire and you have something of an epiphany moment. It goes to the very heart of a message I have framed on my desk at home that my late brother-in-law Raymond wrote to me when he was given just three weeks to live. It reads: “Don’t you ever, ever let yourself get to a stage in your life where you think, I wish I had of, or worse still, why didn’t I?” The message is continual confirmation for how I think in life.
My wife, Nanette, walked in and saw it again a week or so ago and that was all she needed to see. She was probably thinking my time in the game was up, but she is a wonderful wife, a wonderful partner and a wonderful friend who has always given me wonderful support. That does not change now.
When I look at the events of this week and the tragic death of John McCarthy, who I coached at Collingwood for four years, I get a shiver over how life and the opportunities it brings can never be taken for granted.
I was riding my bike when a Collingwood official rang to tell me the news and “woosh”, I just couldn’t control my emotions. It was such a shock and just so dreadful.
Too many people think they are Superman, but it is moments like this that show us that we are all just another part of the human race. I feel desperately sorry for what happened and so very sad for his family.
He was a beautiful boy, John. There was nothing nasty about him and he wouldn’t have hurt a fly. He loved his mates and loved playing footy. I really enjoyed him.
But life has to continue and for me now, it continues with Carlton.
I have been openly critical that the Blues have for too long relied too heavily on the on-field efforts of captain Chris Judd. That has to change and I look forward to the challenge of supporting every player to get the best out of themselves, not their part-best so they have to rely on someone else.
Like many, I have been seduced this season by the highs Carlton have produced. But I am now even more baited by the challenge of helping to bring their lows up closer to those highs.
I have never subscribed to the theory that you luck your way into the top eight. Similarly, I don’t think you’re unlucky if you finish in the bottom 10.
Carlton finished 10th this year. We now have a lot of work to do and I’m under no illusions that this is going to be a big job.
And while it won’t mean a whole lot to me or my players, I’m sure the supporters will enjoy the rivalry when we play the Magpies next year. It’s an innate thing for Collingwood supporters to hate the Blues and maybe now, even more.
So this is the next phase of my life. It is a massive challenge and life is about challenging yourself.
I want to work to get a satisfaction in knowing that every player I’ve had the chance to rub shoulders with finds a level that is beyond what he has previously thought. I want them to dream big because I want to take them to a new level and get every player to be what he wants to be.