Essendon, as insiders have noted, doesn’t have a leader in the mould of Joel Selwood, who cannot abide defeat and plays accordingly. Nor do they have anyone with the package of mongrel and directorial talent as the great Luke Hodge.
But even if they’d had a Hodge-like director on the field this year, that player might have struggled to point team mates to the right spots, since the Bombers – by their own admission – did not have sufficient clarity in their game style.
Broadly, Essendon of 2020 was a club that lacked definition on a few fronts: how they played, what they stood for, who was coaching them and where they precisely saw themselves on the line between premiership contention and rebuilding.
The review, authored by Brasher with the input of Sean Wellman, Kevin Sheedy and Simon Madden, did not address the position of the playing list compared with other clubs – an analysis that the club (like 17 others), does every year.
In recognising that leadership has been deficient, the review has reversed one of John Worsfold’s core tenets, which was empowerment of the players. The logic, which wasn’t explicit in the summary, is that a team that is light on for players who drive standards and enforce team rules must hand a bigger whip to the senior coach.
Therein lies the nub of Essendon’s self-examination: Ben Rutten has been given the keys to the Hangar and will call the shots. The Bombers, obviously, are reacting to the confusion that inevitably occurs within a team when there are two senior coaches in the same panel.
The discarded head of football Dan Richardson had not favoured the overlapping scenario; he’d felt that Worsfold should be moved on and Rutten installed in a clean break.
The hierarchy had felt that Richardson was too close to Rutten and factored this into his removal. Yet, they’ve also empowered Rutten to impose his will on the team and coaching staff and Brasher said the key attribute of the next footy boss would be his capacity to support the coach.
So, the new coach will get his druthers, but that authority comes at a cost: it means Rutten will carry the can for performance and have fewer alibis or excuses over the next 12 months to two years – other than Essendon’s assessment of the playing list, which one would hope is realistic.
Rutten will not get a honeymoon, that’s if there’s really such a thing for senior coaches.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.