The six AFL coaches you need to know ahead of the 2021 season

A new AFL season has arrived, and much like the Premier League and the NFL, a large portion of intrigue surrounds the men in charge.

Published: 17 March 2021 - 6.20pm

Who will propel their team from outside the top eight into premiership contention? Who will create the blueprint for dismantling Richmond?

Plenty of AFL coaches are under the pump at this time of year, with the fortunes of the next six months dictating their longevity in the role. 

Melbourne’s Simon Goodwin, Collingwood’s Nathan Buckley and Greater Western Sydney’s Leon Cameron face the most pressure ahead of the new season. Time will tell how their sides fare in 2021.

But before the season starts on Thursday, live on BT Sport, we want to draw your attention to the six coaches you need to know more about. 

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Damien Hardwick (Richmond)

It is hard to believe now, but only a handful of years ago Hardwick was facing the sack after failing to win a single final in his first seven years at the helm of what was then a fallen giant.

Imagine Chelsea or Manchester United sticking by a coach for that long without success. Mauricio Pochettino didn’t even get that long at Tottenham.

Now Hardwick is a three-time premiership winning coach, having guided the Tigers all the way in three of the past four years.

He is now one of the greatest coaches of the modern era and Richmond are a goliath, poised to go become only the fourth club since the 1940s to go back-to-back-to-back.

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Alastair Clarkson (Hawthorn)

Remarkably you only have to go back to 2015 to find the last team to complete the almost-impossible three-peat.

Clarkson led the Hawks to that stunning achievement then, adding those three flags to the one they won in 2008.

Hawthorn have tumbled down the ladder in recent years, but Clarkson is still regarded as the Bill Belichick of the AFL.

No one changes the way the game is played like the four-time premiership coach.

Many expect him to find ways to exploit the new man-on-the-mark rule and most don’t believe his best is behind him. 

Nathan Buckley (Collingwood)

Unlike Hardwick and Clarkson, the ultimate prize still eludes one of Collingwood’s greatest ever players who has coached the club for nine years.

Much like Steven Gerrard who never won the Premier League during his decorated career at Anfield, Buckley lost two Grand Finals as a player and now one as a coach.

The Magpies have played eight finals in the past three years, losing the 2018 decider by less than a goal, but are on a steady decline meaning 2021 is crucial for Buckley.

Collingwood are the biggest club in town and will be a big story this season, no matter what happens. 

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Chris Scott (Geelong)

Not many coaches in the AFL win the premiership in their first season, but that was Scott in 2011 after taking over a team who had won two flags in the previous four years.

Now ten years on, the Cats haven’t gone all the way again despite being in contention for most of the past decade.

Scott’s home and away record of more than 70 per cent is better than anyone who has coached more than 70 games in the history of the game.

His problem is in September, where the Cats have lost 13 of 21 finals under his watch, including last year’s Grand Final against Richmond.

They have doubled down since then, signing three massive names during the trade period. It is almost now or never for Geelong.

Ken Hinkley (Port Adelaide)

This time last year, no coach was under more pressure than Hinkley. Port Adelaide hadn’t won a final since 2014 and the jungle drums were beating.

Then the Power produced a stunning 2020, sitting on top of the ladder for the entire season before falling by a goal to eventual premiers Richmond in the preliminary final.

Now there is no doubt that Hinkley is the man to lead Port Adelaide to its first flag since 2004. Many believe the Power are the Tigers’ biggest threat this season. 

Luke Beveridge (Western Bulldogs)

When Beveridge guided the Bulldogs all the way in 2016 and ended a 62-year premiership drought in the process, there was no man more popular in Australia.

But times have changed since then. Beveridge is still highly respected, but the small club from Melbourne’s west haven’t won a final since.

The Western Bulldogs have played in the past two finals series, but they need to start winning finals again.

They have one of the best midfields in the AFL right now and should contend this September.