Carlton's Coach of the Century

David Parkin


Senior Coach : 1981-1985 & 1991-2000
Games : 355 ( 219 wins, 134 losses, 2 draws )
Playing Career : Hawthorn 1961-74 (211 games, 21 goals)
Height : 180 cm (5 ft. 11 in.)
Weight : 79.5 kg (12 stone, 7 lbs.)
DOB : September 12, 1942
Premierships 1981, 1982 and 1995

Among the most respected figures in the long history of the Carlton Football Club, David Parkin was already a household name at Hawthorn when he arrived at Princes Park in 1981 to coach the Blues to three Premierships in fifteen interrupted seasons.

An intense, determined and analytical individual with enormous self-belief, Parkin had been recruited by Hawthorn from Melbourne High School in 1961, going on to play 211 games in an outstanding career at Glenferrie Oval. He represented Victoria five times, and won the Hawks’ Best and Fairest in 1965, before captaining them to the 1971 Premiership. He retired as a player two years later, and began his coaching apprenticeship with WA club Subiaco.

Throughout his playing days, Parkin also pursued tertiary studies with the same diligence that showed on the field. While at Hawthorn, he qualified as a primary school teacher, and by the time he returned from WA in 1975, he had added a Bachelor of Physical Education from the University of Western Australia to the Diploma of Physical Education he had previously gained from Melbourne University.

Back at Glenferrie Oval, he was appointed as assistant coach to John Kennedy; the Hawthorn legend who had guided Parkin throughout his playing career. Kennedy’s coaching philosophy was relatively simple. He expected his teams to physically and mentally dominate the opposition - through thorough preparation, strict team discipline and individual honesty of effort. This led to the press labelling the Hawthorn sides of that era ‘Kennedy’s Commandos’. Kennedy was also a brilliant tactician and a gifted orator, and David Parkin was one of his chief disciples.

In 1976, after Hawthorn won its third VFL Premiership under his guidance, Kennedy stepped down, and anointed Parkin as the new coach of the brown and golds. Parkin hit the ground running, and, in just his second year in charge, steered the Hawks to another emphatic Grand Final victory over North Melbourne. That triumph marked the high point of Parkin’s career at Hawthorn, because shortly afterward, as his core group of champion players retired or succumbed to injury, the Hawks fell into decline. By 1980, they had drifted down the ladder to eighth place, and Parkin knew his future at Glenferrie was limited.

Meanwhile, over at Princes Park, the turmoil created in the wake of former President George Harris’ departure – an episode that had split the club, and sent Carlton’s 1979 Premiership captain-coach Alex Jesaulenko to St Kilda – lingered on. Although Jesaulenko’s successor; Peter Jones, took his team to second spot on the ladder after the home and away rounds of 1980, he wasn’t able to spark his men when it mattered most. Successive heavy defeats by Richmond and Collingwood tipped Carlton out of the finals’ race, and in regard to his coaching future, ‘Percy’ Jones was a dead man walking.

The Carlton committee had already decided that if Hawthorn didn’t renew David Parkin’s contract, he would be the preferred option to take over from Jones. As it was, Hawthorn forced Carlton’s hand sooner than expected. In October 1980, they appointed ex-St Kilda Premiership coach Allan Jeans as the new man in charge at Glenferrie. Consequently, only days later Carlton President Ian Rice rolled out the welcome mat at Princes Park for David Parkin.

For both parties, Parkin’s arrival could not have been better timed. Following on the flag triumph of 1979 - and the bitter disappointment of 1980 - there was an air of grim determination around the club that the next opportunity for a flag would not be squandered. The Blues’ playing list was still a powerful one, with established stars like Fitzpatrick, Doull, Harmes, Ashman, McKay, Johnston and Maclure, joined (or about to be joined) by an array of talented recruits, including two champions from WA in Ken Hunter and Peter Bosustow.

It was around this time that the groundwork Parkin provided for his team became his hallmark. He believed that a coach’s role was to teach as well as motivate, so each week, he handed every senior player a hand-written assessment of their last game, often accompanied by an edited videotape. Aspects of their individual and team skills were assessed, and a program to improve any deficiencies mapped out.

Later in the week, if that same player was included in Carlton’s team for the next match, he would be given another file, this time with a comprehensive appraisal of his likely opponent, and a detailed assessment of his strengths and weaknesses. It created a huge workload for Parkin, but it was a process that he passionately believed in, and within a year or two there wasn’t a VFL club not doing the same.

To Parkin’s immense credit, he not only established quick rapport with Carlton’s talented and disparate playing group, but also rapidly moulded them into a formidable combination. The Blues sat atop the ladder as flag favourites after the home and away rounds of 1981, and firmed further with a clinical 40-point win over Geelong in the Second Semi-Final.

That win set up a Premiership-deciding clash against the Blues’ fiercest rival, Collingwood - who would be making their sixth attempt at Premiership glory since 1970. Under their celebrated coach Tom Hafey, the Magpies were hell-bent on shaking the desperate misery of five straight September losses off their backs at last.

But on that cool, showery day at the MCG, Parkin matched Hafey’s every move in an even first half, then demanded a huge effort from his men in third quarter. Despite inaccuracy around the goals, Carlton’s advantage in class told after that, and the Blues ran out winners by 20 points as David Parkin joined a select group of coaches who have guided a Premiership team in their first season at a club.

Carlton’s courageous finals campaign of 1982 has often been underestimated, especially as the achievement fades into distant memory. Yet Parkin’s feat of motivating his battle-weary team – many of them carrying injuries – through four tough finals matches over successive weeks was perhaps his finest hour.

After finishing the ‘82 season in third place behind Richmond and Hawthorn, the Blues began their quest for back-to-back flags impressively, by dominating the Qualifying Final against Hawthorn at Waverley Park to run out 58-point winners. But a week later at the same venue (while the Great Southern grandstand was under construction at the MCG, all of that year’s lead-up finals were held at Waverley) minor premiers Richmond handed Carlton a reality check, a four-goal defeat, and an appointment with a desperate Hawthorn in the Preliminary Final.

The following Saturday afternoon, Parkin’s detailed knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of his former team helped Carlton comfortably account for the Hawks in another bruising encounter on VFL Park’s energy-sapping expanses. The Blues had qualified for another Grand Final, but as the crowd of 60,000 battled their way out of the Waverley car parks that evening, Richmond had firmed into hot favouritism for the flag.

Although Carlton was boosted by the imminent return from suspension of our champion mid-fielder Wayne Johnston in the week prior to the ’82 Grand Final, the loss of reliable defender Rod Austin, as well as deepening concerns about the fitness of the team’s inspirational captain Mike Fitzpatrick, put additional pressures on Parkin’s ability. Always a believer in the simple maxim of ‘I can, and I will’, he spent the week in detailed discussion with each member of his Grand Final side, leaving them in no doubt about his confidence in them, and what he and everyone associated with the club expected.

On the morning of the match, he unveiled his plan to unsettle Richmond by sending 22 players (including Frank Marchesani and David Clarke – who were not named in the selected side) out on to the ground prior to the opening bounce. As the teams jogged to their positions after the toss, that pair then disappeared up the race, allowing Wayne Johnston and Ken Hunter to take their places. While this was happening, Fitzpatrick strode to a forward pocket, Jim Buckley went into the centre, Johnston took his place at half-forward, and second-string ruckman Warren Jones was handed the enormous task of single-handedly quelling Richmond’s big men.

Ignited by Parkin’s passionate pre-game address, the Blues burst out of the blocks from that first bounce, matching Richmond for ferocity early, and again stamping their authority on the game in the third quarter. The steadiness of Carlton’s defence, ‘Wow’ Jones’ ruck dominance, and Wayne Johnston’s inspirational team play were the deciding factors, as the underdog Blues snatched Premiership number 14 from the demoralised Tigers. Afterwards, the football press was lavish in its praise of Parkin and his team, speculating that a football dynasty was in the making.

As usual however, all those predictions proved hollow. While the Blues were finalists over the following three seasons, a pattern of stumbles at the first hurdle in September emerged. After Carlton lost the 1985 Elimination Final to North Melbourne at Waverley, rumours that Parkin was losing the confidence of his team intensified. It was claimed that he had begun to lecture his players, rather than to encourage and teach them. This subtle difference brought his career to another fork in the road.

Later that same year, Carlton and our close neighbours Fitzroy jointly announced an agreement to swap coaches for 1986. Parkin was off to the battling Lions, while the Blues welcomed back our former captain and three-time Premiership star Robert Walls, fresh from five seasons in charge at Brunswick Street.

At Fitzroy, Parkin inherited of a club rich in spirit but short of resources. Walls was handed the reins of a quality team, about to be boosted by the arrival of some of the greatest players in Carlton’s history. The previous year, Stephen Silvagni and David Rhys-Jones had played their first senior games, while Wall’s return to Princes Park coincided with the arrival of boom interstate recruits Stephen Kernahan, Peter Motley, Craig Bradley and Jon Dorotich.

Both men had good seasons with their new clubs in 1986. Parkin lifted Fitzroy into the Preliminary Final, where they were beaten by Hawthorn. Walls’ Blues went one step better, and reached another Grand Final, only to also be hammered into submission by the white-hot Hawks. Within twelve months however, Walls and Carlton took sweet revenge - inflicting an equally emphatic hiding on Hawthorn in the 1987 decider. Wall’s gamble of playing firebrand Rhys-Jones on Hawthorn’s gun forward Dermott Brereton was hailed as a coaching coup. ‘Reese’ won the Norm Smith medal for Best on Ground, and Carlton added a fifteenth VFL Premiership Cup to our already crowded trophy cabinet.

From the dizzy heights of Premiership glory, history repeated itself in the succeeding two seasons. Like Parkin, Walls came from a teaching background. He too, was a disciplinarian, and a stickler for team rules. Renowned as a consummate team-man during his playing career, he had little time for those who were not prepared to make sacrifices for the common good. This goes some way to explaining his relatively short tenure as coach at Princes Park.

In 1988 Carlton finished third on the ladder, primed for a real shot at back-to-back flags. But successive narrow losses to Hawthorn and Melbourne bundled the Blues out of finals contention. Walls was livid after the defeat by Melbourne, and launched a verbal tirade against the entire team in the rooms afterward. Rather than acting as a spur for the next season however, the episode had exactly the opposite effect. Many senior players resented the inferences expressed by their coach, and just switched off.

As a consequence, Carlton began 1989 with five straight losses – most by big margins. Tensions had already appeared by round 10, when the lowly Brisbane Bears provided the spur for Walls’ sacking with a gut-wrenching, 3-point victory over the Blues at Princes Park. A few days later, the club committee turned to another prodigal son in ‘Jezza’ – Alex Jesaulenko, who agreed to step back into the coaches box as he had done so successfully a decade earlier.

But this time, even one of the greatest of all of Carlton’s sons couldn’t lift the Blues from mid-table mediocrity. So, as Collingwood celebrated their temporary recovery from the Colliwobbles with a flag win at last in 1990, and Jesaulenko prepared for life after football, Carlton President John Elliott approached David Parkin (by then two years out of contract at Fitzroy) with an offer to return to Princes Park as senior coach in 1991. To Elliott’s relief, Parkin agreed, but not before stipulating a number of conditions that were quickly agreed to. Primarily, he insisted on being given the time, and the resources, to rebuild Carlton’s team into a winning combination - not to be constantly pressured for short term success.

Another defining moment in David Parkin’s career came with Carlton’s controversial recruitment of Brownlow Medallist Greg Williams from the Sydney Swans in 1992. As he had already proved, ‘Diesel’ Williams was a champion, and the ideal player to build a team around. Largely due to his influence, a revitalised Carlton climbed back into flag contention in 1993, only to run into an equally-talented Essendon side that was too good for the Blues on Grand Final day.

But while the Bombers went into a tail-spin after that triumph, Carlton stayed in flag contention. Williams won a second Brownlow Medal in 1994, and twelve months later, Parkin’s diligence and Carlton’s astute recruiting hit the jackpot. From the mid-point of that fabulous year, the Navy Blues began an unprecedented run of 16 straight victories, culminating in a 61-point demolition of Geelong in the 1995 Grand Final.

Parkin was quoted afterwards as saying that this was his most enjoyable season of all, because for most of the latter part of the year his team had all but coached itself – such was the talent and professionalism of every player. He even admitted that he relaxed for one of the few times in his whole career during the last quarter of that Grand Final, spending most of those thirty minutes marvelling at the skills of Greg Williams. ‘Diesel’ won the Norm Smith Medal as best on ground; an outstanding player in one of the greatest football teams ever assembled.

In 1996, Carlton appointed former Brisbane Bears assistant coach Wayne Brittain as understudy to Parkin, and the pair found much in common. Like the Kennedy-Parkin relationship all those years ago at Hawthorn, this partnership evolved to the point where, by 2000, Parkin was happy to take a back seat to Brittain on match days.

Aside from the ’95 Premiership, the highlight of David Parkin’s last years at Princes Park was surely the 1999 Preliminary Final triumph against Essendon - a gutsy, glorious 1-point victory that denied Essendon the chance to equal Carlton’s proud record of 16 VFL Premierships. His last match in charge of the Blues came one year later, when Essendon gained their revenge by knocking the Blues out of the 2000 Preliminary Final.

Since his departure from Princes Park, David Parkin has continued to live his life the way he played his football; with dedication, determination and ambition. During his last year in charge of the Blues, his standing within the game was confirmed when he was named coach of Carlton’s Team of the Century. In 2002 he was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame, and twelve months later given the same honour at Hawthorn. He is one of just six men to have coached over 500 VFL/AFL games (the others are Jock McHale, Allan Jeans, Tom Hafey, Ron Barassi and Kevin Sheedy).

In 1989, Parkin became Victorian football's director of coaching, on behalf of the Victorian Football Development Foundation. His role was to improve the standard of more than 6200 coaches throughout the state. He was also appointed to the VFL umpires' coaching staff under director Bill Deller. Parkin took a two-year absence of leave from Victoria College to concentrate on his new position. Since 1992, he has been a lecturer in sports coaching at Deakin University, and is the author of around a dozen books on coaching, sports psychology, self-improvement and related topics.

These days, he is a busy and popular corporate motivator, and a highly-respected football commentator on both radio and television.


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