As a player, John Worsfold was a wanted man in the same way that Ned
Kelly, Al Capone and Jack the Ripper were wanted. As a coach, Worsfold is wanted
in the sense of needed. Seemingly, two jobs are his for the asking, and the
fact that both are in his home town makes it all the intriguing.
His interview with Fremantle lasted nine hours, which is just about longer
than some StKilda coaches last in the job. West Coast spent less time on him,
but as he played for all of the club's first 12years and captained for eight -
including both its premiership seasons - it ought to understand better than any
his combination of on-field savagery and off-field civilisation, and whether it
would make a good coach.
The question of whether Worsfold is ready has been answered. Both Perth clubs
think he is, and so does Carlton, where for the last two years he has been one
of a team of celebrated assistants. Worsfold chose Carlton because it was
single-minded about success, was away from Perth and because David Parkin, Wayne
Brittain, Stephen Kernahan and Greg Williams could give him a first-class crash
course in the arts and pitfalls of coaching. At 33, he is young, but coaching
increasingly is a young man's game.
Collingwood coach Mick Malthouse, who made Worsfold captain of West Coast at
22 and shared with him an era in which the Eagles were never out of the finals,
thinks Worsfold is ready, not least because he has opportunities now that might
not arise again for several years.
Worsfold's appointment at Carlton was sprung on then coach Parkin, and his
role was low-key. This season, under Brittain, he has been responsible for the
most parsimonious back line in the competition, conceding only 80points a game.
His abiding philosophy is team and club; he insists that players must give up
the pursuit of individual goals and rewards for the team's gain. He won only one
best-and-fairest award as a player.
Reportedly, Worsfold is not a coach to rant and rave; like the best coaches,
he has a reputation that rants and raves for him.
Worsfold has impressed widely at Carlton with his willingness to engage
media, sponsors and fans, even to the point of good-natured banter about some of
the atrocities of his playing days. He understood that football clubs were no
longer just about football. Only towards the end of this season, when the
questions were more about him than Carlton, did he retreat.
Reportedly, he was just as committed to the entirety of the club when he was
West Coast captain, which partly explains why he is so appealing to the Eagles
now at a time when they need all the friends they can get.
Worsfold will have to choose delicately if indeed he has to make a choice.
West Coast doubtlessly will appeal because the club is so much a part of him,
but it might be too familiar. What, for instance, would Worsfold do about Glen
Jakovich, once his partner on the best half-back line, now in serious and sad
decline, but still on a lucrative contract? Hiring and firing footballers is an
even more fraught business in Perth than in Melbourne; in the smaller pool, the
fish look proportionately bigger.
Already, some fans in Perth are protesting at the idea that West Coast might
not appoint Worsfold. But favorite sons have a poor record as coaches; they know
where too many of the skeletons are and sometimes want success too badly. That
said, it is not as if Worsfold would be out of sight and mind at Fremantle, the
only other AFL club for 2000kilometres.
Nonetheless, Fremantle surely makes more appeal. It won fewer games than West
Coast this year, but it was mostly competitive, whereas West Coast lost by an
average of nearly 10goals, and seven times by more than 80points.
Fremantle's new management has recruited more aggressively, its list is
younger and its immediate prospects look much brighter.
Worsfold will be acutely aware that first-time coaches who fail rarely get a
second chance. He may never face a tougher selection decision.