INSTILLING A CLUB CULTURE — A FIRST — HELPED SYDNEY SWANS FLY – PAUL ROOS – THE AUSTRALIAN

By Paul Roos, The Australian

Former Melbourne coach Paul Roos at his home in Melbourne. Picture: Aaron Francis

I was faced with a challenging task if I wanted to become the next coach of the Sydney Swans.

To be honest, I’d much rather spend an afternoon trying to beat Wayne Carey to the ball than grappling with a computer and putting together a PowerPoint presentation. But it had to be done, so I turned to Anthony Cahill, the head of IT at the club, a former schoolteacher and a very smart man with an amazing IT brain. He’s also a really knowledgeable football person.

Over two days, he worked hard to help me transform my ideas into a manifesto for the Sydney Swans’ future. His assistance showed me the strength of the relationships I already had with the fantastic staff at the club.

As I look back now, I’m glad the Swans’ board wanted me to present my coaching vision. I knew we needed significant change and I had so many thoughts running around in my head. Setting it out in a presentation clarified my opinions about pre-season training, about developing players, about recruiting. My ideas were translated into a logical, clear action plan.

It gave me a guide for the road ahead. It had taken about 15 hours to put together the 47-slide presentation covering coaching philosophy, training philosophy, game plan, recruiting and business plan.

It talked about areas where we needed to improve, looked at the individual players and the way we wanted to play. I tried to set out where we were at the end of 2002, where we wanted to get to and how we could get there. The title was simple: “Sydney Swans, 2003 and Beyond”.

Coach Paul Roos and Barry Hall raise the cup after the Sydney Swans won the 2005 Grand Final

I arrived at the Swans’ headquarters on Monday, September 16 and went to the boardroom to present to the coaching subcommittee — chairman Richard Colless, Colin Seery, who had been elevated to CEO, Ricky Quade, who was on the board and had previously coached and played for the Swans, and our new head of football, Andrew Ireland. This is the first time I’ve publicly revealed the contents of this key document, which outlined in detail the path we would take to transform the team. The first page was titled “Vision” and contained a clear statement of my intent.

“My aim is to inspire, teach and lead the Sydney Swans to become winners!”

In the introductory slides I went through my record as a player. A total of 356 games, five best and fairest awards; captain of Fitzroy, captain of Victoria, and twice named All Australian captain. Next, I outlined my coaching experience, and tried to show that, while I might be a fledgling coach, I’d worked hard to broaden my knowledge.

I detailed my visits to major sporting organisations in the US, to the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers, among others. I spoke about the Australian football coaching clinics I’d conducted in America. And I couldn’t leave out a little known fact — my first coaching gig was in 1999, in charge of the US Australian Football ­Association national team against Canada, in Chicago. (We won.)

My competitor for the Swans job, Terry Wallace, had been an AFL coach for six and a half years, taking over the Western Bulldogs job halfway through 1996 when Alan Joyce was sacked. Wallace had quickly rebuilt the Dogs and coached them to preliminary ­finals in 1997 and 1998, and they also played finals in 1999 and 2000.

I was up against a coach with big runs on the board. When I did that study tour to the US in 1999, there were very few coaches in Australian football who had gone overseas to observe and learn from other professional sports.

Those experiences had been invaluable to me and were instrumental in shaping my ideas about the future of coaching and team success. I wanted to impress upon them that I might not have the experience of Terry, but I had a point of difference and didn’t want to do things the way they’d always been done. I had new ideas and plans. I moved on to my general philosophy for the club.

United. Everyone on board. All involved. All have an important role. All heading in the same direction. Excellence. Lead by example. No shortcuts. Attention to detail. Desire for success.

The first thing I wanted to emphasise was that the club had to be united to make real progress. There was no doubt there had been significant divisions during the past two seasons. I’d lived through the dark days of a failing footy club at Fitzroy and seen coaches come and go, trying desperately to turn things around.

It had forged my belief that just appointing a new coach wasn’t going to make the difference. You had to have common purpose and synergy between the chairman, the CEO, the football manager and the coach.

Everyone in the room that day knew it too. Colless had been chairman of the club since 1993. He took over at the lowest ebb — the Swans finished last on the ladder in 1992, 1993 and 1994 — and he had led the club out of that quagmire. We’d made the grand final in 1996, but hadn’t reached the pinnacle. Season 2002 had been especially frustrating and worrying for Richard and he knew better than anyone that we had to heal the fractures. Towards the end of Rodney Eade’s time as coach, there was interference from the administration in the running of the team.

At one stage, the then CEO, Kelvin Templeton, had come down to training to take marking practice. Kelvin was a former Brownlow medallist and one of the best centre-half forwards of all time. But for him to leave his upstairs office and appear at training was unsettling and unnerving for the coaches and players. The intentions were good, everyone was desperate to win a premiership, but we were divided about the best way forward. That sort of thing had to stop. There would be rough times ahead — all football clubs ride a rollercoaster — but if I was to become coach, everyone had to look after their own job and be as one. We had to ride the rollercoaster together.

The “Choose Roos” campaign at the end of the season was a sign of the public and player support for me to be appointed coach, and helped convince the board I could be a uniting force for the club.

I spoke about attention to detail, and leaving no stone unturned to create an environment where excellence was the minimum ­standard. In the US, I’d witnessed the incredibly professional standard of training and analysis. There was so much more we could do to improve. I spoke about changing the way we trained, breaking down our drills so they were more targeted and skill-oriented. We had to use our time more effectively to develop every player on our list.

Developing a strong club culture. Sense of belonging. Sense of history. Pride in working for the Swans. Positive environment.

I also wanted to forge a culture where players didn’t take shortcuts, but committed themselves to every aspect of the program. When I began playing in the early 1980s, you had to take shortcuts in your preparation because you couldn’t do it all — you worked outside football, so there was no way you could go to the physio, get massages, do your weights, do all the training you should. Now we had the time, so we talked about how a week would look for a fully professional footballer.

The coach had to set the scene, to show guys what a professional athlete looked like.

Culture was not a word often used in football clubs at that time, but it was about to become a buzz word.

Until the 1990s, the AFL had largely been a talent-based competition. The teams with the super­star players would generally win. But with the competition evened out by the draft and the salary cap, clubs were looking to find an edge in other ways.

If we could establish great values, customs and habits at our club — a culture — that all the players bought into, surely it would forge a stronger club.

That could give us an advantage over other teams. We discussed building a culture where we maintained elite standards and kept each other honest, took no shortcuts and treated each other with respect. Understanding and appreciating the history of the South Melbourne/Sydney Swans football club was integral to building a new culture.

This is an extract from Here It Is by Paul Roos, published by Penguin Random House, August 28, RRP $32.99. Roos is a columnist with The Australian on leadership.

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