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Worsfold's legacy speaks for itself

West Coast coach John Worsfold has been one of the most pivotal figures in the Eagles' history.

West Coast coach John Worsfold has been one of the most pivotal figures in the Eagles' history. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

In the end, John Worsfold's departure as West Coast coach wasn't a massive surprise. If the Eagles were far and away the most disappointing team of the 2013 AFL season, their coach didn't exactly set the world on fire, either.

There were times this season when Worsfold seemed almost like he hoped the club he had served with such distinction as both player and coach would make a difficult decision for him, appearing on occasion out of ideas and, for that matter, motivation.

But a dozen seasons in charge of the one club in the modern game is a long stint. With the end of the Worsfold tenure, Hawthorn's Alastair Clarkson now assumes the mantle as the AFL's longest-serving coach at nine years, and even he had his former chairman in Jeff Kennett calling for his head after just one game this season.

West Coast coach John Worsfold and then captain Chris Judd with the 2006 premiership cup.

West Coast coach John Worsfold and then captain Chris Judd with the 2006 premiership cup. Photo: Mal Fairclough

Only the third person to captain and coach a premiership at the same club – alongside Geelong's Reg Hickey and Hawthorn's David Parkin – Worsfold bows out with a winning percentage of 53.4. That figure should not be dismissed. Of the current AFL coaching crop to have coached longer than three seasons, only Ross Lyon (63 per cent) and Clarkson (60) have a better strike rate.

But Worsfold, despite a premiership, two grand final appearances and eight finals appearances from his dozen years at the helm, was often, if not dismissed, then under-estimated in coaching circles, the critics pointing to an alleged lack of tactical acumen and failure to respond quickly enough on match days.

His coaching attributes at West Coast were the stuff of the bigger picture, but no less significant for it.

Worsfold's unshakeable faith in his philosophies and the future played a huge role in lifting the Eagles from the foot of the ladder, not once but twice during his reign, those resurgences arguably more noteworthy than the premiership to which he led his club in 2006.

In his first season in charge in 2002, he inherited the ageing remnants of the playing list he had skippered, coming off successive finishes of 13th and 14th. Worsfold immediately had the Eagles back in the finals, where they would remain for six seasons, culminating in a grand final loss by a kick in 2005 before achieving the ultimate by a solitary point the following year.

His list was then torn apart, first by the drug problems of skipper and star Ben Cousins, then the departure to Carlton of Chris Judd. In two of three seasons between 2008 and '10, the Eagles would win just four games and pick up their first wooden spoon.

But even early on during that demise, Worsfold maintained, often to howls of derision, that West Coast would re-emerge sooner rather than later.

Over the summer of 2010-11, he oversaw the modification of training programs for his many veterans, all of whom responded with stunning seasons. He placed faith in youngsters such as Luke Shuey and Andrew Gaff, and he defied convention with a squad of super-talls like Dean Cox, Nic Naitanui, Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and Quinten Lynch, who could make their presence felt not only forward, but with mobility around the ground.

The results were stunning, West Coast rising all the way from 16th to the top four, as big a climb up the table as AFL football has seen. Ultimately, the Eagles fell short of another flag, but coaching hasn't seen many better single years than his in 2011.

Injuries helped thwart the most recent incarnation of West Coast, and by the end of this season, he and his team looked devoid of both inspiration or hope. But the Worsfold coaching legacy in his home state speaks for itself, whether the cognoscenti swooned or not.

7 comments so far

  • Great article,Rohan.Woosha was underated as a player and a coachIn an era when Tony Liberatore won the Brownlow medal,the umpires awarded a fantastic competitor and leader 12 votes for the entirety of his career.I loved watching him play and will have great memories of the awesome encounters with the Swans.The two wins from about 9 and seven goals behind respectively against Geelong and Carlton years ago in successive weeks will go down as classics.Some Eagles players were pathetic this year and a few of the fringe players did not grab the chances they were given.A couple have thankfully retired and about half-a dozen more should be axed.Congratulartions on a fantasdtic career Woosha and good luck for the future!

    Jimmy of Stirling Castle
    Date and time
    September 05, 2013, 8:02PM
    • The time was right I think. But a good career Worsfold, good luck in the future.

      Robert J
      Date and time
      September 06, 2013, 12:21AM
      • A legend of the game as both player and coach. The two characteristics I find best in people are honesty and respect for others - he was an absolute winner on both counts (obviously Mick Malthouse's childish, churlish, rude, holier than thou personality didn't rub off on him) He is proof that you don't have to be outwardly aggressive to everyone to succeed, he had an inner competitiveness as a player and coach which couldn't be matched. Good luck John Worsfold (come to Tigerland as an assistant)

        Date and time
        September 06, 2013, 7:30AM
        • In a sport dominated by egos and self promoters, John Worsfold stood out for his values, his leadership and his great sense of purpose. As a player he made the most of his potential. As a Coach, he kept his head when those around him were losing theirs. May Woosha have the opportunity to make an ongoing contribution to the AFL at the highest level for the benefit of the game.

          John C
          Kew, Vic
          Date and time
          September 06, 2013, 9:16AM
          • I think it is more of the Eastern Staters not quite realising what happens week in and week out around the teams over here.

            Often they are weeks late in identifying what the likes of Cometti, Zempalis and other WA people recognise. It isn't there fault, they have 8 of their own teams to look after, but quite often "we" get a little overlooked.

            Having said that, I must agree with Jimmy, great article and a great player/captain/coach. I heard some stats of him yesterday which I am a little disappointed for Woosha not being listed in this article. Woosha has been Captain or Coach in every Eagles Premiership and has been involved as a player or coach for 24 out of the 27 seasons the Eagles have been in the competition.

            I am not an Eagles fan, never really have been, but John Worsfold is a legend, not only of the Eagles or WA footy, but in the AFL. People speak of what Sheedy has done and although not quite on the same level nationwide, what Woosha has done with the Eagles has been nothing short of fantastic. 490 games over 24 years is a fantastic result. It is a pity he will never make 500 for the club, but well done Woosha.

            Date and time
            September 06, 2013, 11:33AM
            • It is impossible as an Eagles supporter to say a bad word about Woosha but it was definitely time for him to step down as coach. It is well known in Perth that he has had personal issues to deal with this season that must have distracted him but at the end of the day watching the Eagles play has become boring and tedious. The team needs a new coach with different strategies and playing style. As a member you can see that the players are following the coach's game plan but it was not a game plan that was working and he was being comprehensively being outcoached by every other team. Good luck for the future and we all respect your decision.

              Hugh Hefner
              Date and time
              September 06, 2013, 5:39PM
              • Some quality achievements in a distinguished career, but this is also a coach whose club existed under the edict that the rules only apply if you aren't good enough - not the only club to do this, but one of the more noteworthy examples. Kerr, Cousins and messrs Gardiner anyone?

                Charlie Mac
                Date and time
                September 06, 2013, 8:51PM

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