Essendon will soon begin the process of finding a new senior coach after brutally parting ways with Ben Rutten on Sunday.
Asked what type of coach the club would now target, club president David Barham said: “We think we’re after a more experienced coach. We think a more experienced coach might be able to get more out of this list and we want to give our list the best chance.”
Foxfooty.com.au profiles 10 candidates with full-time senior experience the club should look at … and 10 gun assistants should the Bombers change tack.
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Not only are the Bombers after an experienced coach, they’ll be keen on one that can promptly implement defensive standards — and Lyon would deliver that. Lyon has also proven at both St Kilda and Fremantle he can step into senior coaching roles and bring success quickly, which would clearly appeal to the Bombers. But is Lyon prepared to return to the rigours of senior coaching? Since being removed as Fremantle coach in late 2019, Lyon has slotted seamlessly into various media roles. He’s consistently been asked about whether he’d entertain a coaching comeback – and never totally slammed the door shut on the possibility. Lyon once described himself as an “AFL career coach”, while his former pupil Nick Dal Santo once said he would “adapt and face a challenge, no matter how well the team’s going at any particular time”. Lyon was initially interested in the then-vacant Carlton gig last year, but pulled out when he was told he’d have to be part of an interview process, rather than being handed the job as the clear contender. Surely he’d be among the Bombers’ top few candidates.
The fact Hird is even being considered for a return to the senior coaching role at Essendon is remarkable, but his name has and will come up in the conversations at board level. Much like the club itself, the issue is fragmentation at board level, with some opposed to the idea of a Hird return while others are at the very least open to the possibility. Hird, 49, was coach of Essendon during the infamous supplements saga, which ultimately led to him being suspended for 12 months due to his role in the program. AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan has previously stated he’d have no qualms if Hird, one day, came back as a senior AFL coach.
Still, there are two factors that could work against Hird. The first is that Hird was absent from any official football role between 2015 and 2022, taking a long time away from the game as the emotional toll of his coaching tenure took hold. The second is what transpired during that tenure as head coach and what a return could mean for a side so desperate to leave the ghosts of the supplements saga behind it. Western Bulldogs legend Brad Johnson said on Fox Footy following the news of Rutten’s sacking: “I don’t think James Hird is the right guy. They need stability. From what Michael Hurley was saying on retirement around what he’s been through with the instability as a football club based around his time and James Hird was a part of that, I don’t think it’s the right move to go back again. They’ve got to go forward in a completely different direction. I don’t think Hirdy is ready to jump back in again.”
Another experienced coach that’s had a big influence on game style recently at two different clubs. Pyke’s time at the Crows ended in messy circumstances, but it was a successful stint on paper, which included a 2017 Grand Final appearance. He transformed the Crows into one of the best offences and most attractive teams to watch in the AFL. Since leaving Adelaide, his influence at the Sydney Swans as an assistant coach has been well documented, with John Longmire’s side improving its ball movement and becoming a greater attacking threat in the past two years. Pyke was in the mix for the then-vacant Collingwood gig last year but pulled out of the race. Before that, he said the idea of being a senior coach again was enticing, but questioned whether it was an appropriate next step as enjoyed the life of an assistant coach.
The former Brisbane coach has drawn big praise for the impact he’s had in his first year at Collingwood as defensive coach. He also has experience leading his own team after coaching Brisbane from 2014 to 2016 before playing a key role in Richmond’s golden run of three flags in four years, with Damien Hardwick lauding his teaching skills, as well his ability to challenge and innovate. Leppitsch had interest from Carlton last year. Amid that approach, Leppitsch impressed in various TV and radio roles across the footy media, which only enhanced his profile.
Like Hinkley at the Power, Cameron had a successful tenure at the Giants without capturing a flag. Since parting ways with the Giants, Cameron has impressed in various media roles, but has left the door ajar for a possible return to a role at an AFL club next year. Whether he’d be open to hopping straight back into the senior coaching box at a big club outside of Sydney remains to be seen.
He hasn’t been a senior coach since 2010, but Williams remains one of the most respected coaches and teachers in the game — and would obviously bring ample experience to the Bombers. After assistant stints at Glenelg, Essendon and the Power, Williams was appointed Port Adelaide’s senior coach in 1999. He led the team to four consecutive top-four finishes, culminating in the Power’s maiden AFL premiership in 2004. He also took Port to the 2007 Grand Final. Williams finished up at the Power in 2010 and moved to Sydney to link up with the Giants as the senior assistant to Kevin Sheedy before joining the Tigers in 2013 then the Demons in late 2020. In between the Richmond and Melbourne stints, Williams coached VFL club Werribee and took them to the finals in 2019.
The contracted Port Adelaide coach, countless times this year, has stressed his determination to see out his contract with the Power, which expires at the end of 2023. But the Bombers can offer Hinkley something Port can’t: Tenure and security. Despite not winning a flag, Hinkley has had a terrific tenure at the Power, leading the club to five finals appearances in 10 years, including three preliminary finals. He has the experience the Bombers would surely be after. Perhaps the big games and big club vibe might appeal to Hinkley too?
Other former senior coaches that are now assistants to keep an eye on would be Brendon Bolton (Collingwood), Matthew Knights (West Coast) and David Teague (Richmond).
And if the Bombers change tack and opt for an untried full-time senior coach …
At the time of writing, McVeigh remains in the mix for the Giants’ job, which he performed in a caretaker capacity for the final 13 rounds of the season. McVeigh’s record during that time was 4-9, with the side clearly opening up offensively under McVeigh’s watch but also conceding large scores as a result. The above may sound far too familiar for Essendon fans. A 232-game Bomber, McVeigh is in his eighth season at the Giants where he’s worked his way up to be senior assistant coach. He has clearly shown a willingness to tell it like it is, as he did with his stunning comments about some players potentially having checked out after a 73-point loss to Sydney in Round 20. Working in his favour was the response: A 27-point win over, funnily enough, Essendon. McVeigh is clearly willing to throw his hat in the ring, and a McVeigh return to Essendon could be an easier sell than Hird. He said this week: “I’ve tried not to be something that I’m not. I’ve just tried to be who I am and who the players see. I’ve tried to be as authentic as I can be. Not everyone appreciates that, that’s fine. That’s just who I am and I didn’t want to go away from that.”
Another premiership Bomber, Solomon has spent time as a senior coach – for three games back in 2017 at the Suns after Rodney Eade was sacked. He has spent time as an assistant coach at Fremantle and the Suns, with his time at the latter ended prematurely at the end of 2020, despite having a deal until the end of 2022, surprising many in the industry. Solomon was Stuart Dew’s senior assistant in 2020 and met with the Dockers in 2019 as the side looked for a Ross Lyon replacement. He has completed his Level 4 coaching accreditation. He’s also spent time with McVeigh and Hird in the Giants coaching box in the back-end of this season following Leon Cameron’s departure.
A dual premiership forward and 187-game player across three clubs, Caracella has become one of the AFL’s sharpest and most highly-rated assistant coaches. Crucially, he’s experienced premiership success at three different clubs. His assistant coaching journey began at the Magpies in 2007 before moving to Geelong in 2010, where he worked under Chris Scott for seven seasons. He also spent three years at Richmond prior to joining Essendon at the end of 2019 in his current role. It was reported Caracella was happy to strategise in the background behind Rutten. But would the prospect of taking over this Bombers list as the senior coach appeal to him?
At one stage, Giansiracusa was set to coach the Bombers against the Tigers on Saturday night before the club opted to delay its decision on Rutten until Sunday. Giansiracusa is one of the highest-rated assistant coaches in the industry. He became an assistant at the Bulldogs in 2015 before stepping into the role as senior coach of Footscray in 2019. Giansiracusa in 2020 was named the AFL Coaches’ Association’s Assistant Coach of the Year before being poached by Essendon for the 2021 season as its backline coach. Could he make the step up from Bombers assistant to the main man?
Death, taxes and Kingsley being in the mix to take over a vacant senior coaching role, such is his reputation as an assistant coach. He’s in the mix for the vacant Giants coaching role at the moment, but if he missed out on that the Bombers could look at him. One of the most experienced names in the assistant coaching ranks who has never held a senior position, Kingsley started his journey as an assistant at Port Adelaide in 2007. The majority of his assistant coaching career has been at the Saints — where he served from 2011 to 2018 — before moving to the Tigers in 2019.
A ‘Clarko disciple’ that has been in demand in recent years. In fact many see him as the favourite to get the Giants coaching gig full-time. The former Melbourne player thrived in multiple positions at Hawthorn over nine years before moving back to the Demons — the club he played 271 AFL games at — and playing a crucial role in their success over the past two seasons. Yze has ambitions to become a senior coach. He missed out on the Crows position at the end of 2019 when Matthew Nicks was appointed, so he’s been around the mark before. And you sense his reputation has only increased over the past two seasons.
Other assistant coaches to consider are Scott Burns (Adelaide), Robert Harvey (Hawthorn), Jaymie Graham (Fremantle) and Ash Hansen (Carlton).