Building a sustained platform…

Brendon Bolton is going to coach Carlton.  He seems a good choice, having been in the system for 13-years.   Most recently he was assistant to Alastair Clarkson at Hawthorn.  It gives him credibility and pedigree.


Bolton is also a school teacher.  Clarkson was a school teacher too.  He likes teachers.  Coaching footballers must be similar to teaching kids, except coaches are allowed to swear at their players.


In getting a senior job, Bolton has proved he can teach.  In taking the Carlton gig, he’ll have to learn to swear.


And Bolton is a winner too.  When Clarkson was forced out of coaching last year due to illness, Bolton won five consecutive games with the Hawks and laughed his way through five consecutive press conferences.


It has become the most talked about five-game winning streak in coaching history, enough to get Bolton to Carlton.


Teacher, winner, affable.  Very good, on and off the field.


And now, as Carlton’s coach, he joins a select group of men who became VFL/AFL coaches without playing at the highest level in Victoria, South Australia or Western Australia.


Apologies if there’s any omissions, but it is possible Bolton is just the fifth man in history to coach at the highest level without playing at the highest level.


His lack of experience, given his background, shouldn’t be a limiter, but there are men who went before him with the same limitations and they aren’t testament to glory.


It must be said though, that dozens of football legends turned out to be poor coaches.


Bolton isn’t a football legend.  But he could be, if it goes right at Carlton.


Unsurprisingly, his appointment was leaked to the media.  Surprisingly, when he talked up his appointment in front of the media, he didn’t sound like a coach.  He sounded like a new coach with the latest book of clichés.


‘I want to try and establish a sustained platform,’ Bolton said.


A platform is a raised or level surface that people or inanimate things can stand on.  A platform doesn’t seem too hard to build to be sustainable.  Get some wood, steel and concrete.  A shovel would help.  People who know what they’re doing would be good too.


‘That’s about building relationships, it’s about creating a learning environment, it’s about honest and open communication,’ Bolton said.


Building relationships at football clubs is like building a sustained platform.  It needs wood, steel and concrete, and a shovel.  Bolton wants to create a learning environment so his players can learn to build a sustained platform.  And if the platform looks wonky, Bolton wants honest and open communication.

‘The way I see Carlton right now is thorough and on the same page, because it was an exhaustive process,’ Bolton said.


It would be an exhaustive process in deciding to coach Carlton.  And Bolton and the Blues are on the same page.  Bolton never played at the highest level.  Carlton isn’t either.  Neither should be a limiter to what they can achieve.


Blues CEO Michal Trigg said Bolton was picked because he had capacity, which is now the most important word in footy.


‘Just that capacity to develop a learning environment, to build capability and develop out list,’ Trigg said.  ‘We’re 100 percent confident in his capacity.’


Capacity, sustained platforms, learning environment…


‘I think football now … is around collective offence and defence and a balance between both.  Go too far and it affects the other,’ Bolton said.


Most AFL fans would’ve thought football has always been around collective offence and defence.  Bolton was sounding like a primary school teacher holding up short words on little cards.


‘But I’m not going to lock totally into that because I know there’s a lot of good minds that are going to have input into that,’ Bolton said.


So football isn’t about collective offence and defence, when good minds think about it???


‘But I’d also like to pick the players brains and their thoughts on footy,’ Bolton said.


The players would probably say football has always been around collective offence and defence.  That’s open and honest communication.  But this is a learning environment, and the players need to establish a sustained platform before they think about offence and defence.


‘I asked lots of questions around the list.  I asked questions about what they consider to be a learning environment,’ Bolton said.


The players have told him they want to learn how to establish a sustained platform that’s open and honest with good mind learning and ways to defend it.


‘I asked questions about how we’re going to interact as key stakeholders.  It was a long discussion,’ Bolton said.


The key stakeholders now know how to develop a sustained learning environment on a platform with open and honest offence and collective defence with a balance that isn’t locked totally.


No wonder it was a long discussion.


‘I do want the list to understand that it’s a blank canvas right now,’ Bolton said.


So now the players have to paint.


‘I don’t want to have too many preconceived ideas.  I want it blank so they can come in with an open mind and I have an open mind,’ Bolton said.


Open minds, without preconceived ideas about platforms sustained by learning honesty and open defence and locked offence that’s totally balanced.  On a blank canvas.


‘It makes it more difficult to get a start in an AFL club unless you’ve played at the elite level but over time if you’ve been in there for a while I think it doesn’t matter,’ Bolton said.


It’s difficult to get a start in an AFL club without sustained balance, preconceived platforms, open picked minds, learning defence, total offence and honest stakeholders.


‘In fact I’d like to think there’d be some sort of benefit from not being an AFL player.  Because you’ve had far and many varied experiences often,’ Bolton said.


Instead of playing AFL, Bolton was building learning platforms with elite offence, preconceived defence, locked minds and sustained honesty all balanced totally.


Bolton has been able to do that.  He’s a teacher…


He should’ve talked about football, that it will be tough, it’s always been tough.  Victory is all there ever is.  Victory, winning and success.


That the artist never sees a blank canvas.


Addendum – the non-playing coaches


Col Kinnear never played at the highest level.  But he coached Coburg in the VFA from 1977 to 1980.  In 1984 he joined Carlton and won premierships in 1986-87 as reserves coach.


In 1989 Kinnear went to Sydney.  After the excesses of Geoffrey Eddleston, he had no chance.  Without money or players, there were no finals.  At the end of 1991, that was it.


Wayne Brittain played senior football in Queensland in the eighties.  He coached Windsor Zillmere to the 1988 premiership and ended up at Carlton under David Parkin in the late nineties.


When Parkin quit after the 2000 season, Brittain took over.  Carlton made the finals in 2001.  In 2002, the Blues won the wooden spoon and Brittain was sacked.


Mark Riley’s knee ruined his football career before he could play senior football.  A standout junior in Perth, he coached WAFL club Clermont to the 1994 grand final.


He stayed in the system as an assistant and was at Melbourne in 2007 when Neale Daniher quit. Riley became caretaker and coached the Demons for nine games.  Winning three games wasn’t enough.  He was out, Dean Bailey in.


Brendan McCartney played senior football in the Geelong Football League.  He wasn’t known in the AFL when he coached Ocean Grove to four consecutive premierships in the Bellarine League.


But in 1988, he joined Richmond as a development coach.


McCartney then spent eleven years at Geelong, from 2000 to 2010 as an assistant.  In 2011 he was in the same role at Essendon.  At season’s end, the Western Bulldogs gave him the top job.


Three years later, McCartney resigned in turmoil.  The Bulldogs didn’t make the finals under his rule.  They haven’t missed him, which is not to say he didn’t help build a list.


It is a hard transition from the lowest level to the AFL.  Brittain is the only man listed above who didn’t play at the highest level but coached an AFL club in a final.


McCartney is the only man who didn’t play at the highest level to quit or be sacked as coach of a club that made the finals the following year.


Bolton’s rise is no longer unique, but success would be…


About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. Interesting, Matt.
    Yes, you have to be a good people-manager and tactician,
    but I cannot help thinking that a large part of a coach’s
    success comes down to the stars aligning: the cattle,
    the injuries (or lack of), the support, the decline (or not)
    of other clubs at the same time.
    In a nut-shell: there is a large element of luck involved.

  2. The People's Elbow says

    Brendan Bolton is the Carlton Brad Stevens.

    Stevens is the best young coach in the NBA, whose playing experience was limited to playing for a small Indianan liberal arts college in Division III.

    Last season, Stevens didn’t have a rim protector, a knockdown shooter or an All-Star on the roster. He took them to the playoffs (in an admittedly weak Eastern Conference, but enough for Some GMs to rank him behind only Popovich and Carlisle).

    That said, Carlton has nowhere near the impressive front office that the Celtics do.

    The link is that the Club Psychiatrist that Steven Trigg thought surplus to Carlton’s requirements, is now at the Celtics.

    I’ve no doubt that management speak aside, Bolton was the right choice, and is an excellent coach in his own right. His biggest obstacles wont be our list, which is about as deep as a carpark puddle, it’ll be an incompetent Board that you’d describe as evil were it not for the fact it is moribund.

  3. Excellent analysis, Litza.
    I will be most interested to see how the Bolton era plays out at Carlton.
    He seems to be a great fellow, so good luck to him.

    I just hope that IF things go pear-shaped due to factors out of his control,
    the sages and Robbos in the media do not come back and say he was not
    the right choice.

  4. Litza,
    I like the info you wrote about basketball. I’m not a follower, but the concept is obviously the same.
    I remember asking a mate who was boxing if I could offer him some tips.
    He wasn’t sure, because I’d never had a fight, professional or amateur.
    It didn’t mean I couldn’t see what he was doing wrong.
    And Angelo Dundee never had a fight in his life, yet he trained men like Muhammed Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and George Foreman, among others, to world titles.
    I think Bolton is a good choice. He had me smiling at the press conference.
    And the fact he mentioned ‘key stakeholders’ seemed to indicate a willingness to take the board and all on…

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