IT’s easy to be a rubbish player and win a flag, because you’ve got 20 other blokes next to you pulling their weight.
What’s difficult is being a rubbish coach and somehow dragging your team to ultimate glory.
But that’s what these coaches did. Sort of. They are statistically the worst* coaches ever to win a premiership, based on their winning percentage. Sure, some of them are footy legends that have given more to the game than this shitty little blog ever will.
But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to pot them, because that’s just the type of shit blokes we are.
TONY JEWELL (Winning percentage: 42.09%)
EX-Tiger Tony Jewell took the big job at Richmond in 1979 and brought with him a folder of 37 typewritten pages labelled “Len Smith’s coaching notes”.
Jewell, who played under Smith in 1964 and 1965, was a diligent student and learnt everything he could from the brother of AFL legend Norm. Retiring as a player in 1970, Jewell went on to coach a bunch of mates at Caulfield, before getting a gig with the Richmond reserves, and eventually taking over the big seat at Punt Road from Barry Richardson.
Finishing 8th in his first season, Jewell’s thorough jotting paid-off the next season as the Tigers won the 1980 flag.
The next year, the Tigers missed finals and the board dumped Jewell for favourite son Francis Bourke – despite Bourke having a complete lack of coaching experience.
Jewell took a season out of the game before accepting the poisoned chalice of coaching the Saints, where he lasted two seasons, famously telling a reporter midway through 1984 that he would step down at the end of the year. The plan was scuppered by Saints big wig Lindsay Fox when he pulled Jewell up at training and told him to piss off there and then.
An obvious sucker for punishment, Jewell returned to the Tigers in 1986 but by that time the cupboard was well and truly bare thanks to a trade war with Collingwood that saw Richmond lose David Cloke and Geoff Raines.
War is probably the wrong word. It was more of a slaughter, and for all of us who aren’t Richmond fans, you can’t spell slaughter without laughter
Jewell coached his last game in 1987 and remains Richmond’s most recent premiership coach.
GEORGE HOLDEN (46.30%)
NOT many coaches who finish on the bottom of the ladder in their first season go on to win a premiership. But George Holden did, and he did it in the one season.
Holden, who was Fitzroy’s best and fairest in 1915, took over as coach in 1916 from the distinctly avian sounding Percy Parratt.
In a season in which only four clubs competed due to World War I, Holden dragged the Lions to the bottom of the ladder with just two wins from 12 games. But in the spirit of the exceptionally talented Vanessa Williams, Holden always saved his best ’til last.
Playing in a finals series that requires the Rosetta Stone to figure out, Fitzroy beat Collingwood by 6 points in a semi-final, then beat Carlton in a prelim by 23 points, then – bizarrely – played Carlton again in the Grand Final, winning by 29 points.
Parratt for his part kicked three goals, and was rewarded with a cracker and a cuttlefish after the match.
Holden’s coaching career came to an end at the start of the 1919 season, after a knee injury forced him to finish his playing career, presumably meaning he couldn’t be stuffed dealing with the off-field rubbish if he wasn’t getting a kick at the same time.
CHARLIE RICKETTS (46.52%)
WHILE his name screams mildly-successful country and western singer, Charlie Ricketts was a South Melbourne, St Kilda and Richmond footballer who had the misfortune of coaching the Saints and the Tigers, like several others on this list.
Starting his VFL playing career with South in 1906 after playing for Richmond in the VFA, Ricketts became captain-coach in 1909, taking over leadership from – we shit you not – Bill Dolphin.
Dolphin – who was too busy being super intelligent and screeching for fish – had struggled to inspire his team in 1908, something Ricketts had no problem doing the season later as he led South to their first premiership in his debut year as coach.
The next season is of some conjecture in the record books. Official Swans channels suggest Ricketts stood down as captain-coach because he was too ill to continue, while other sources state he was shafted by the board. Either way, Bill Thomas took over for two seasons and failed to get the Bloods to another Grand Final.
In 1912, Ricketts was reinstated into the position and took his team to the big dance again, this time losing to Essendon by 14 points.
Once again, the situation around his 1913 sacking differs between sources, with Swans documents suggesting he was overlooked by the playing group because they preferred Vic Belcher, and other channels stating that the players wanted to keep him on, but the board overruled them and decided to dump him.
Fed up with South’s revulsion to success, Ricketts packed up his kit and moved back to his original home of Punt Road, winning the club best and fairest in 1913.
The Tigers, who had joined the VFL in 1908, had been lingering near the bottom of the ladder since their induction. Ricketts took over as coach in 1914 and not a whole lot changed, as he took them from 8th in 1914 to an eventual 4th in 1916. If you’ve been paying attention in class, however, you’d of course remember there were only four teams in 1916.
Moving to the Saints in 1920 as non-playing coach, Ricketts felt the full force being St Kilded, winning just five games of 27 and giving him the unenviable record of being third on this list.
ROBERT WALLS (46.97%)
BEFORE he became one of the most infuriatingly monotone special commentators in league history, Robert Walls had a coaching career that looked like a really shit roller coaster.
It started up, went up a little bit more up, then plummeted into the ground, killing everybody on board.
Retiring as a Fitzroy player in 1980, Walls was offered the position of coach in 1981 and immediately started clearing out the old players. In modern terms, it would be like Joel Corey taking over as Cats coach in 2012 and deciding to cut blokes like Jimmy Bartel and Corey Enright out of the picture.
It was brutal, but it worked. The Lions went from the bottom to fourth in a season.
In the next four years, Walls’ Fitzroy would remain in that mid-range region as he built a reputation of being a hard arse who wouldn’t give an inch. In one training session in 1983, Walls pushed his players so hard that some of their injured teammates – who were being treated in the rooms – decided to turn the floodlights off.
When Walls figured out what had happened, he sent the entire squad out on the field and made them stand crucifix style in heavy rain, telling them that they could go in for a warm shower once one player dropped his arms – provided they told him who that player was.
At the end of a disappointing 1985 season, Walls moved to his original club Carlton in a swap with David Parkin. Seeing immediate success thanks in part to the interstate influx of players like Craig Bradley and Stephen Kernahan, Walls’ Blues made the Grand Final in 1986 before winning the premiership in 1987.
A third-placed finish followed in 1988, before Walls led the Blues to their worst season in 24 years in 1989, finishing 8th.
Walls was sacked midway through that season after a loss to the Brisbane Bears. Obviously seeing something in that performance, the Bears offered Walls a job in 1991 and controversy soon followed.
Walls came under heavy criticism – albeit a decade late – when it was revealed he instructed eight of his Bears players to circle the recently recruited Shane Strempel and take turns beating the shit of him. In what can only be described as a solid case of the Nuremberg defence, the players did what they were told until Brownlow Medallist Brad Hardie called a stop to it, telling Walls “we’d better stop or we’ll kill him”.
With a string of rubbish seasons under his belt, Walls was told midway through 1995 that he would not be reappointed as coach. Buoyed by this news, the Bears players would go on to win seven of their next eight games and take the club to their first-ever finals series.
Walls moved to Richmond the next year, lasting just one a half seasons before being forced to permanently hang up his boxing gloves and pissed off attitude.
ALEX JESAULENKO (48.21%)
THE last playing-coach to win a premiership, most of Jesaulenko’s success came when he still had the boots on, winning the 1979 premiership and notching a 35-win record from 42 games with Carlton.
Lured to St Kilda solely as a player in 1980 because of his ongoing pay disputes with the Blues and being pissed at the sacking of club president George Harris, Jezza was thrust into the coaching position after Round 2 of that season when the aforementioned Lindsay Fox dumped incumbent Mike Patterson, leaving Jezza’s record to be forever St Kilded.
Coaching the Saints for 64 games, Jezza would win just 13 of those, leading him to call it quits at the end of the 1982 season and leaving Fox to employ Tony Jewell as a replacement – and we all know how that turned out.
Jesaulenko would go on to take seven years out of the game, before being called back to Carlton midway through 1989 to replace the aforementioned Robert Walls.
Coaching in ’80s. Man, it was a wild ride.
JOHN WORSFOLD (50.16%)
WORSFOLD’S coaching career wasn’t St Kilded. It was drug-sagadededed – or something.
With a winning percentage at the Eagles that wasn’t even that good – taking home the chocolates just 53% of the time – Worsfold is still seen as somewhat of a master coach despite the fact he had the likes of Chris Judd, Ben Cousins and Daniel Kerr at his disposal.
In his defence, the questionable off-field activities of some of his stars probably went a long way to limiting sustained success at West Coast.
Somewhat atoning for any sort of perceived sins from that time, Worsfold came into to Essendon to clean up their own drug saga, further damaging his coaching record along the way.
While Worsfold’s coaching ability is starting to show through Essendon’s improvement this year, it is easy to forget he was less than a goal away from not being a premiership coach at all.
And on that note, Paul Roos comes in at 9th on this list with a winning percentage of 51.49%. While his Swans record (57.42%) was dragged down by the fact he took a rubbish Demons side and made them competitive, he too was a kick away from not being a premiership coach.
So it begs the question, are Roos and Worsfold master coaches? Or were they just lucky? We’d love to hear your feedback on the Facebook page or Twitter. And while you’re at, give us a ‘like’. It’ll make our day to see you appreciate this rubbish.
DENIS PAGAN (51.16%)
THE final coach on this list was destroyed by the salary cap scandal at Carlton. There’s not much more to it.
Building a dynasty at North Melbourne that snagged flags in 1996 and 1999, ex-North and South player Denis Pagan built success around the now famous “Pagan’s Paddock”, in which he would leave the forward 50 completely open, offering space for Wayne Carey and John Longmire to run into like strikers latching onto a long ball (that’s a soccer analogy for those playing at home. It’s OK to like both sports).
Leaving the Kangaroos at the end of 2002 with a winning percentage of 62.5%, Pagan stepped into a shitstorm at Carlton. Actually, let’s call it Tropical Shitstorm Salarycap. Because it was that bad, and none of it was Pagan’s fault.
Left with barely any high draft picks and barely any money in the bank to play with, Pagan tried everything he could to make things work at Princes Park, but his winning record was just 24%.
Pagan was sacked midway through 2007.