ROSS Lyon walked into a media firestorm on his first day as Fremantle coach. But right now, it might be planning a statue for him at Subiaco.
Well maybe not yet, but the Dockers coach has certainly turned the tide of opinion in his favour as the underachieving Fremantle launches into a finals series. In any case, he's not one to worry about public popularity. ''I haven't got a fan-o-meter on my desk,'' he says.
What's different at Fremantle under Lyon? A whole lot, not least the coach himself since his departure from St Kilda.
Lyon's philosophy on football is the same, but the game plan is a little different. In his world, the method of play is continually tweaked.
''We don't play exactly the same as my previous club,'' he told The Age. ''We've adjusted ball-use, stoppage structures, adjusted the way we defend, compared to the Saints. Anyone who thinks it's identical is off the mark. We've changed with the game.''
Fremantle won nine games under Mark Harvey last year. The Dockers won 14 under Lyon in his first year. The improvement is obvious. Look deeper, and the Lyon influence is plain. Fremantle is the second-ranked defensive team, conceding just 11 goals a game. Only Sydney does better. Teams are being choked by the Dockers' manic defensive intent and their forward press.
Fremantle has won eight of its past nine games and here is the bonus for the 2009-10 grand final coach: the Dockers are scoring more heavily, too. Six times in the past eight games they have hit the 100-point mark, including a 20-goal haul against North Melbourne. In the past seven games they are averaging 107 points. ''There's been a significant shift,'' he said. ''That's pretty healthy.''
Lyon's mantra is on the public record. ''Premiership teams are top-four attack and top-four defence and top-four contested ball. Then you know you're a serious AFL team. ''They're non-negotiables for every team. You've got to compete, you know. Don't compete, [you] don't play well.''
As it happens, Fremantle finished the home-and-away matches 12th in scoring, second in defence and fourth in contested ball differential.
When he arrived in Perth, Lyon set about making changes, as any new coach would. He altered Fremantle's training days and teaching methods. Copying his method from St Kilda, he stopped the Dockers from training the day before games. He altered their travelling regime, so that when they come to Melbourne, for instance, they don't train. They train and then travel.
More significantly, he adopted the same regime with regard to soft-tissue injuries - which he calls ''a key indicator'' for clubs - that he had at St Kilda. ''It was a headache when I walked into that club [St Kilda], and I learnt from [conditioning man] David Misson and [doctor] Ian Stone and the doctors. We were able to apply it really quickly here.''
The Dockers have had some impact injuries, but not many soft-tissue problems, unlike, say, Essendon.
The change at Fremantle is evident in individual players. For instance, defender Michael Johnson, whom the Dockers felt needed to get fitter. ''He's in great condition,'' said Lyon. ''He's had a super year.''
Or Chris Mayne, the straight-kicking forward who has 36 goals. Or Jon Griffin, the ruckman who did such a sterling job when Aaron Sandilands missed a long stretch of football. Or Michael Walters, the small forward who was dispatched from the club for unprofessionalism, and who has come back a hungry player. ''The leadership group were strong on standards,'' said Lyon. ''He needed to act his way in or act his way out. He's acted his way in.''
Players have bought into the new mantra. Sandilands came back from injury and fired immediately.
Fremantle has started to fix the disconnect between the number of times Sandilands gets his hands on the football and the number of times it wins the clearance. ''It's a work in progress,'' said Lyon. ''We're not in the upper echelon where we'd like to be.''
Hayden Ballantyne, reported twice early in the year, focused on playing. ''He gets targeted a lot,'' said Lyon. ''You work on your disciplines. He's terrific in understanding what we're after.''
What they are looking for is improvement from within. Here, Lyon lauds Fremantle's development regime headed by Simon Lloyd. ''There's five coaches in our development program, and that's helped drive with the four line coaches to develop the players. We've got four football IT people that support those coaches. Their ability to boil down the information and present it in chunks that the players can work with and bring it to the park has been significant. It's made my job really easy to help manage those coaches. It's made my job a pleasure.''
Lyon, whose reputation took a battering when he walked out on St Kilda, is flying again and Fremantle is on the rise with him. It is often said coaches are better second time around. Here there may well be another example.
''I've never coached better,'' he said. ''I've never managed better. You always mature, and experience is great to have behind you when you're confronted with situations.''