Brett Ratten - By Denis Pagan

When crisis collides with opportunity there will always be a benefactor. Such was the case for me when a coaching vacancy arose at North Melbourne on the eve of the 1993 season. Now Brett Ratten finds himself in a similar position after the Carlton board formally endorsed his appointment as senior coach earlier this week.

Being a former captain, three-time Best & Fairest winner and Premiership player, Brett has the right credentials to seize the opportunity that has been afforded him as the Carlton Football Club slowly but surely emerges from the bleakest period of its illustrious history. To lead an institution that, alongside Essendon, has been the most successful in the history of the competition, is a tremendous honour. And knowing Brett as I do, there’s no doubt he’ll be a unifying force and make a great fist of things.            

As you would expect, he is extremely enthusiastic and works very hard. A disciple of  David Parkin, under whom he played the bulk of his 255-game career, Brett is a comprehensive planner as well as being creative and quick on his feet. During his time as one of my assistants he was always supportive and preferred to push politics to the side. Importantly, Brett has the support of the Carlton powerbrokers and in turn, the club’s key decision makers.          

It goes without saying that Brett will only get better as a coach. His coaching resume consisting of less two completed seasons as an AFL assistant (Melbourne 2004 and Carlton 2007), punctuated by a stint as senior coach of Norwood in Division 2 of the Eastern District Football Club, is not typical of the career path followed by most senior coaching aspirants.

Likewise, the coaching selection process undertaken by Carlton represents a significant departure from the model and protocols more commonly adopted by most AFL clubs. By assessing candidates primarily in-house, the Blues were able to quickly narrow the field. Brett aside, the only other applicants interviewed were Chris Bond and Guy McKenna and neither was granted a second interview. Head hunting firms, psychological tests and match play simulations were deemed unnecessary in the Carlton selection process.       

But all coaches who succeed at the highest level need an ounce of luck (not to mention talented players). Don’t be fooled into believing otherwise. My attitude is good luck to Brett. In football, as in life, you’ve got to take your chances.  

I’m on the record in subscribing to the premise that unless you have coached for at least five years, you’re really only practising on the playing group. And while it’s my view that an AFL coach is best prepared by serving an apprenticeship, doing the hard yards is only part of the equation. AFL coaches must be of upstanding character, firm in their football philosophies and be able to communicate these beliefs effectively. Coaches should be clear in what they stand for and understand that everything about them will be scrutinised, from their character, life principals and morals to how they relate to and interact with others.

Some people say that perception mirrors reality in AFL football, but it isn’t necessarily the case when it comes to appointing senior coaches.

Having had the good fortune of working with many talented individuals over a coaching career spanning three decades, I consider myself suitably qualified to present a shortlist comprising those I am confident can make the grade as AFL coaches.     

They are, in no particular order, John Blakey, Gavin Crosisca and John Longmire, who Paul Roos has publicly anointed as the coach-in-waiting at Sydney. All are Premiership players, command respect, possess outstanding character, self discipline, mental resolve and family values. Each has completed an extensive coaching apprenticeship and as far as I’m concerned, tick all of the required boxes and won’t leave any stone unturned in the pursuit of excellence. I still maintain that Tony Elshaug would have proved himself more than capable in the top job and it disappoints me that he never got an opportunity.

To Brett, or any fledgling senior coach for that matter, some words of advice:

  1. Avoid making close-ended statements, as they have a habit of coming back to haunt you.
  2. Never underestimate the value of treating with respect everybody you work alongside and come into contact with. Good coaches recognise that people are best motivated when they feel important.
  3. Be your own person and have a strong coaching philosophy which underpins the basis for all of your decisions and actions.

To this end, Brett has quickly stamped his imprimatur by introducing a different playing style based upon possession retentive strategies. Over the past month we have seen the Blues handball much more and kick shorter. Players are rolling off and they are getting numbers and a ruckman back.  Carlton under Brett is better defensively and while less efficient, the side still takes their chances to go forward when an option presents.  

Ultimately, Brett will have adopted and settled upon his coaching philosophy as it’s one he believes in, not simply because it’s been successful for someone else.

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