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Goodwin ready to take the reins

Nathan Schmook  September 14, 2016 11:24 AM

Exclusive: Goodwin is ready for Dees battle An insight into the new man in charge of Melbourne Football Club

Melbourne's off-field rebuild was completed on Wednesday when Simon Goodwin officially took the coaching reins from Paul Roos. AFL.com.au tracked the new coach through 2016 in a series of interviews as he made the transition from highly rated assistant to the Demons' 31st senior coach.

SIMON Goodwin had known he wanted to be a senior coach since the mid-2000s, and here he was in the chair for the first time, more than 10 years on.

Entering his final season as Melbourne's coach-in-waiting, it was time for the 39-year-old to take the reins on match-day through the NAB Challenge in what would be a key moment in his development.

But things weren't going to plan and the Demons' defensive set-ups were failing, allowing Port Adelaide to take a 16-point lead into quarter time at Playford Alive Oval in Elizabeth.

In his first test as a senior coach on match-day, Goodwin was calm, clear and knew what his team needed to do. "You're doing plenty of things right", he told his players, "but fix this and you'll get yourselves back in the game".

A 35-point turnaround followed and the praise came thick and fast, from Goodwin's fellow coaches, mentor Paul Roos, and from the leadership group, which visited him in the following days to offer their feedback.

It was the moment Goodwin felt ready to be a senior coach.

"It was my first game-day coaching, so that feedback was really important early and it just made me feel really comfortable," Goodwin said recently as AFL.com.au tracked his 2016 season. 

"As soon as you feel comfortable on game day and you get some positive reinforcement, I think that's when you feel like you're ready to go."

So impressive was Melbourne's NAB Challenge, there were calls from media commentators for Goodwin to take on the top job 12 months early.

But the Demons were determined to stick to their full two-year coaching handover, and Goodwin's development continued for the rest of the year out of the spotlight.

He took on new responsibilities, driving the coaches' three-hour review on Monday mornings, and designing the training schedule and game style education plan for the week.

Monthly meetings with Roos about how the handover was tracking kept things on course, and Goodwin constantly referred to a written development plan for his final year as an assistant.

"It started two years ago and it's been a really smooth transition and development phase," Goodwin said in June. 

"Externally it's difficult to manage, but the club has been really good in doing it our way and it's been like that the whole way though.

"There were times through the NAB Challenge where commentators were saying I should take over now. Then they're saying 'Roosy' should stay on for another year.

"So externally there's been interesting commentary the way it's wavered through different performances, but the club has been really strong with what we're actually doing with the transition."

Roos' role and support of Goodwin in the past two years can not be understated, and his generosity has allowed his understudy to slowly mould the Demons in his image.

It means Goodwin will not be taking over and changing the team, but continuing on the path he has set with his mentor's help. 

"'Roosy' has always said his best interests are with where I want the team to go and the vision I have for the footy club," Goodwin said early in the year.

"We have open conversations around that quite regularly and it comes on the back of weekly catch-ups to chat about where we're going, game style, and culture.

"He's very supportive of the club strategy and also what I'm trying to create."

When Goodwin arrived at Melbourne two years ago, his main focus was obvious from his first press conference in a Demons tie.

It was a time when priority picks were being discussed as an option for Melbourne and a losing culture, after eight seasons with eight wins or less, was starting to stick.

His presentation to the club, according to Roos, was "less about kick-ins, zones, handballs, and more about culture and leadership".

Building strong relationships was his priority from day one with a group of players who were preparing for their sixth coach in five years.

"They were a little bit wary and they've had a lot of coaches over a long period of time, so they probably thought, 'Here comes another one, what's he going to be like?'," Goodwin said.

"Making sure they knew I was totally invested in them was really important.

"It's really difficult to have strong conversations with people you don't know."

One of the strongest relationships Goodwin has at Melbourne is with midfielder Jack Viney.

Goodwin sat down with the 22-year-old when he first arrived as midfield coach for the 2015 season and invested in helping Viney achieve everything he wanted in his game.

It is common for Viney, now a member of the leadership group, to approach Goodwin on a Monday with a list of feedback points out of the weekend's match.

"Me and Simon have a pretty strong relationship," Viney said.

"When he came to the club he taught me the right way to play football and the decisions that were required.

"You don't play good football by chance, it's all to do with the decisions you make on and off the field.

"He showed me the right ones to make. He's had a massive impact on me."

As well as relationships, Goodwin talks about the five pillars of his coaching. The other four are culture, people, education and game style.

His coaching has been taking shape since 2005 when Neil Craig took charge at Adelaide.  

Craig and Olympic cycling coach Charlie Walsh have been two of Goodwin's biggest mentors, but he has also been shaped by the now widely used Leading Teams.

Jim Plunkett is the Leading Teams facilitator aligned with Melbourne and he has met weekly with Goodwin this season helping shape the Demons' culture and leadership.

"It's a real strength of Simon's to have a level of conviction in terms of the importance he places on the culture of the club," Plunkett said.

"He's genuine, he's honest, the boys know exactly where they stand, and because of the relationships he's been able to foster, he can have those real honest conversations around performance and behaviour.

"He has a high level of accountability for himself, and I've got no doubt he's going to drive that across the playing group and coaches."

Former teammates of Goodwin's can trace his focus on leadership and empowerment back to his playing days under Craig, when Leading Teams founder Ray McLean became involved at the Crows.

It was a culture that resonated with the 275-game midfielder and his leadership flourished through his work with young teammates Rory Sloane and Bernie Vince, now a leader himself at the Demons.

Goodwin demanded high standards as a captain from 2008-10, and the two-time premiership player had the record to back it up, also collecting five All Australian jumpers and three best and fairest awards in a decorated playing career.

His focus on game styles came later and the ability to watch live football every weekend was a key reason he decided to start his assistant coaching career in Melbourne with Essendon.

He'll still attend a couple of live games a weekend, but the way he wants his teams to play has been solidified in his head for the last three to four years.  

"I get to two-to-three games a week and look at what other teams are doing, the trends of the game, identifying potential modifications to your own game style," he said.

"But also looking at the strengths and weaknesses of opposition. I really enjoy that, I love it.

"At times I'll take my lad and spend some time with him at the footy as well. It does help shape some of your thinking."

Goodwin has coached his eight-year-old son Eddie's team, the Ashburton Redbacks, in Melbourne's south-east this season, but it’s a passion he'll likely have to sacrifice as an AFL senior coach.

With his wife Maggie, Eddie, and daughters Lily, 15, and Isabella, 11, the Adelaide hero has been able to live a somewhat quieter life in Melbourne, but that's about to change.

It's an adjustment and a "huge commitment" he's thought about a lot, and he's certain the time is right to take it on.

"I feel ready to be a senior coach," he said.

"I've done a lot of work to get to this position and I feel like as a coach I've built some really strong relationships with the players and the staff and they're really clear on what my vision and strategy will be.

"I'm looking forward as a senior coach to working even closer with the players and really bringing their dreams to life.

"Seeing them improve and what you work on is one thing, but just seeing them grow as people is really rewarding … that's what gets you up in the morning."