Hamish McLachlan interviews Luke Beveridge Part 3
HM: Luke Wintle was your captain. In the third grand final, Iím told that it was blowing a gale. You told him that if he won the toss, he should kick into the breeze.
LB: Iím not sure at the time that Iíd convinced him it was the right call. It was a 40 knot northwesterly that blows through Elsternwick. In the frantic struggle of the first quarter of a grand final, where both teams are trying to arrest some kind of control, thereís a psychological edge of having a stalemate in the first, and then having two of the last three quarters going with the wind. Fortunately, enough, he backed me, we kicked into the breeze in the first, and it panned out as weíd hoped.
HM: Trent Cotchin got slammed for doing exactly that against Port Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval. It didnít work out for him, but for you, the gods were smiling again.
LB: Yeah, thatís right. Itís a preference that we all may or may not have. Some of the coaches I have had, or have worked for, are firm believers that you must kick with the wind, and I understand that to a degree, but youíve got to think past what the score will be at the end of the first quarter.
HM: In your mind, what do you think the primary role of a head coach is?
LB: (Pauses for 30 seconds or so.) To win games of footy.
HM: Thatís the easy answer, but you took a while to give it.
LB: Well the primary role, probably, is to be a really good manager of people, know your people, everything about them, and to influence people, I think.
HM: How much of your year revolves around strategy and structures compared to getting people on the list to believe that they can be the very best footballer they have the talents to be?
LB: The degree of either changes, dependent on where youíre at. Thereís definitely a combination of both. The ďbeliefĒ side of it is influenced by everyone, and our coaches do a terrific job with that. If that wasnít there at some point, it definitely is now. We strategise and put a huge price on the tactical side of the game, as well as teaching and remediation, to make sure we are fully prepared for whatís ahead.
HM: Every club would be saying that, but your record suggests youíre doing something differently. You had three flags with St Bedes before going to Collingwood and winning one there. Then Hawthorn, more flags. And now the Bulldogs. Coincidence?
LB: As you said, everyone will give you that answer about what youíre doing, but thereís a way to do it as well. Whatever you value around your messaging, and however you want your players to enter and leave the club, is influenced by the way that you do it. I often talk about what I call the piggybacking effect, which I made up, believe it or not. The feedback processes at any high-performing environment are absolutely critical. Our people need to know that we are so heavily invested in them that we know basically everything about what they do; not because itís invasive, but because we care.
HM: When you say you need to know everything about your players, does that include their personal life?
LB: Mostly just their footballing life. People talk a lot about the relationship side of it, and how maybe we do it well, but ultimately building strong relationships revolves around keeping out of their hair, and giving them space and trust. You send them a text rather than catch up for a coffee. You donít call them when it seems like the obvious time that you should. You tell them to have a different week when they feel they should be stressed about their performance. Itís a balance of spending time, as well as knowing when to give them space.
HM: After that flag at Collingwood, you decided to have a year out of the AFL
LB: I actually got involved with the amateur rep side, so I helped Dean Anderson out with the first VAFA rep side who played Vic Country, which I think we won by two points. I also helped Micky Dwyer out with the U/23s when they had a carnival in Adelaide, which Mickyís side won as well. I went to Ireland with the amateurs at the end of that year too, so I got my footy fix. When I went back into the public service working for Austrack, I found myself missing the feeling I got from helping players thrive in a game I was so passionate about. I finally bit the bullet and quit the public service. I found that it was a comfort, or a blanket if you will, that I had to move away from to explore more opportunities.
HM: So you missed the shaping of lives?
LB: Yes, to a degree. Every time I think about our players, I find myself reflecting on my experiences as well. I realise how much of an impact I can be on those players, whether it be positively or negatively. As a senior coach itís very different, because you feel like you can touch more people, and youíre more in control. Our environment is decision making on steroids, and you feel like you can influence things more and more. If youíre a line coach or a development coach, youíre just dealing with what you can in your patch, and then just trying to manage and chip away at what you think you can change, influence or support which is still absolutely critical. Thatís unconditional. There are selfish reasons too, from a family perspective. If youíre successful in this game it can lead to some good times for your family, and I owed it to Dana, Kye and Noah to explore that.
HM: You ended up at Hawthorn under Clarko. What is it that separates him from the herd?
LB: I think heís a great innovator. Working in various regulatory environments you understand risk, and I think he understands risk from an Aussie rules perspective. He has great relationships with his players. Heís got a good balance of being hard on them, but also relates well to them on a personal level. Thereís a side to Clarko thatís very alpha male, but one of the most endearing parts of his personality is his charitable side. He does a lot for families and or people who need help. When they built their list up when they bottomed out a bit in the early 2000s, he was involved in some crucial decisions around list management. Iíve said a lot of things, but itís a package of all that. He also has the ability to see the game a year ahead, which is also a great strength of his.
HM: You won another two flags at Hawthorn before agreeing to head to St Kilda as director of coaching. Youíre about to head off on a family holiday. Who called you from a Western Bulldogs perspective?
LB: Luke Darcy gave me a call before I left. The director of coaching role was set in stone in May of 2014 with the Saints. Richo and I got together, and at that time all the senior coaches were contracted beyond 2014, and for me that was the most senior role and a great promotion opportunity, so I willingly accepted that role and the challenge. When Luke called me it certainly threw the cat among the pigeons. I told him that I had to take my family away, and that the timing just wasnít right. A week into the trip, we had driven down from San Francisco along the Pacific Highway, and stayed at a lot of places along the way before ending up in San Diego. It was there that I received a call from Simon Garlick (CEO of the Dogs at the time) and he sounded pretty serious. They already had their own shortlist to a degree. He was a good salesman, Simon, very good, and he made me feel pretty important. It was that night that he called that we decided we would come home earlier to be interviewed.
HM: The club was in crisis at the time. What appealed to you about taking on a club on its knees?
LB: The challenge of the job, firstly. You donít feel like the coroner, but it was a big task. And secondly, there are only 18 clubs, and I had an opportunity to be a head coach of one of them. To be recognised as one of those 18 is significant in itself. I didnít know many of their players well, but I felt like they had a core group that were quite talented. The problem for me was that a lot of the jobs I was offered were interstate, and I didnít want to move interstate. I had a connection with the Bulldogs because I had played there, but I really didnít know anything else. I entered the club with a full coaching panel of very talented men with great character, who were supportive for change from day one. I had to take the opportunity, and get out of my comfort zone again.
HM: When you had the first opportunity to address the playing group, what did you say to them?
LB: I canít remember exactly. I think I spoke to them about the relationship side of football, and the work environment side, and just what to expect. Iíve had coaches stand up and give their speeches around what their objectives are and what they wanted to achieve for the club, but mine was about the workplace, and how I wanted them to enjoy their journey as an AFL footballer. It was more philosophical than anything.
HM: I was told by someone who was in the room that the thing that resonated with them was that you said you didnít have all the answers, and the mindset was that you had to do it together.
LB: Yeah, itís hard to remember verbatim ó I think the players are making stuff up these days! None of us have the answers, but I did give them some certainty around what I intended to do as far as implementing an identity in the way we played. We started that straight away, and there was a lot of education early for all of us, and then at some point you step back and trust that others can continue to sing from the same song book, which our people do so well.
HM: So you walked into the Bulldogs in 2014, and looked ahead to 2015. What did you think was going to be an acceptable figure of wins to losses?
LB: Iím a great believer that you canít get ahead of yourself, and as much it may sound like a bit of a cliche, you can only take it one week at a time. We can never let our players look further than that. I know some of our players have talked about no ceilings and how anything is possible, and that was probably at the heart of the way we approached it. No one could tell us what we couldnít do, we just had to believe in what we could do. We stole a slogan from the Saracens, which we donít do all that often. For a long time, the Saracens didnít have a lot of tangible success. ďWe make memoriesĒ was their slogan. On our journey, we needed to create powerful memories, because we didnít have any great ones in recent times. The win that stands out for me was in 2015 against the Swans, up there in the wet. That was powerful in the course of our trajectory. Our ambition was to continue to create little memories, by winning games against good teams to establish we were good enough to mix it with the best. Throughout the course of that year we did that, and hand on heart, I believed that we could go all the way, but obviously we didnít.
HM: After that Sydney win in the wet, your captain said that, in his view, with a little tongue in cheek, it was the best home and away game in the history of football. How well did you know Bob when you arrived at the Dogs?
LB: I didnít know him at all. Iíd met him at Tullamarine when we were both headed off on family holidays to Bali one year. We bumped into each other a couple of times over there as well. When I got the role, we needed to get to know each other pretty quickly, but I think from afar, when you see him in a public domain, or on some television broadcasts, you can get a pretty good sense on the type of bloke he is. In my interview I took a little bit of a punt. A captain when Iím coach is only ever appointed through a democratic approach, by talking to the players and letting them vote, to make sure the captain is the right person. I knew he would be, but I did make the statement in my interview that I would go out of my way to have some ďguided democracyĒ to make sure Bob was captain.
''Dogs are Talking''- The Angels