NEXT year’s Bendigo Gold coach Austinn Jones has taken on the tough role unfazed by Bendigo’s previous lack of stand-alone success at VFL level.
Former St Kilda player Jones was yesterday announced as the Gold’s coach when it severs ties with Essendon at the end of this season and goes stand-alone from 2013.
Next year will be Bendigo’s first as a stand-alone VFL club since the former Bendigo Diggers, who won just seven of 95 games between 1998 and 2002 before forming an alignment with Essendon.
“Personally, I’m not going to look at the history too much,” Jones said.
“We need to learn from it and make sure we have better relationships in the football world in Bendigo, no doubt about it, but I’ll be positive about everything going forward.
“We’ll attract quality VFL players who will make us really competitive, and I just want to focus on the Gold, rather than looking back.”
Jones will start full-time as Gold coach from October.
In the meantime, he will continue coaching Beaconsfield in the Casey Cardinia league this season.
Jones and his family will relocate to Bendigo in August, with the new coach looking forward to combinbing his role at the Gold with engaging with the comunity.
Jones will be Bendigo’s first VFL coach to live in Bendigo since 2006, in what is a significant step forward for the club.
“I wanted to make it really clear during the interview process that I was going to be committed to not just the footy club, but the whole community and everything that goes with it,” Jones said.
“I wasn’t just going to be a coach who commuted up and back from Melbourne and was only a fringe contributor.
“I’ve spoken to the club already about school programs, junior programs and being involved with any local club that would want me out there to assist with young coaches and all those sort of things.
“I’m here to be a contributor to the footy club and the community and to have a real crack at making it work.”
Jones played 226 AFL games and kicked 127 goals for St Kilda between 1995 and 2005.
He was a member of St Kilda’s losing grand final team to Adelaide in 1997, but provided one of the game’s highlights with his four bounces down the Southern Stand wing and goal from 50m late in the first quarter.
The 35-year-old is a dual All-Australian (1997 and 2004) and was a member of St Kilda’s pre-season premiership teams in 1996 and 2004.
Following his AFL retirement he coached Casey Cardinia Football League club Narre Warren to back-to-back premierships in 2006 and 2007.
He also coached the Gippsland Power in the TAC Cup in 2008.
This year he is mixing his role as coach of Beaconsfield with that as an AFL commentator for ABC Radio.
Beaconsfield president John Airdrie strongly endorsed the Gold’s appointment of Jones as their 2013 coach.
“Aussie is a super coach, no question about that, and we’re very happy for him moving forward because he has the ability to coach at a higher level,” Airdrie said.
“He has a great ability to nurture and develop young players and he has a massive amount of respect from all the young players at the club.
“He’s a great communicator and can really relate to the young players.
“We’ve got three 16-year-olds and a couple of 17-year-olds in our seniors and they just thrive on every word he says.
“His record is great and with the right team around him he is going to be super for Bendigo. He goes with our best wishes.”
Jones said he was impressed by the professionalism of the Bendigo Gold during the lengthy interview process.
“It was a very extensive process and a lot deeper than I thought it was going to be, but I really wanted to be part of it,” Jones said.
“I’m really passionate about footy. For me footy is more than a game... it’s the greatest game in the world and I love it.
“I love coaching players and the development side of the role is a big thing for me. So to come in with a new list to work with, there were plenty of attractions, that’s for sure.
“The big thing for a start is going to be the recruiting and the list management.
“Essendon obviously goes stand-alone next year, and so do we at Bendigo, but I’ll be very positive above what we can achieve next year and I will be putting that across to the players who are interested in playing senior VFL footy.
“We’ll go out and get the best list we possibly can.
“There’s obviously some quality on the list already, and there’s two TAC Cup teams in the area in the Bendigo Pioneers and Murray Bushrangers that we have to get those quality young kids coming through as well.
“There will be opportunities for players all around Victoria, whether they are ex-Bendigo or not, to see that the Bendigo Gold are going places.”
Part of Jones’ challenge will be striking the right balance between the importance of winning games and developing players to be drafted by AFL clubs.
“If you’re developing players on your list and making them better players that are starting to attract interest of AFL recruiters then wins are going to come,” Jones said.
“It’s a win-win – if you get the best out of the list, you then look at finals footy and then a premiership as the ultimate goal is within reach.”
Bendigo Gold executive director Peter Lodewijks said Jones – who is signed until the end of the 2014 season – had a strong understanding of all the elements and values the club was looking for.
“He’s especially well-versed in the development and encouragement of young players, which is a major factor in our club’s outlook,” Lodewijks said.
“Ongoing development of the club’s brand and profile will rely heavily on a co-ordinated and effective blend of coaching, player development and community activity and the head coach’s role will be absolutely essential in that regard.
“He and his family will be relocating to Bendigo as soon as possible, which clearly demonstrates his commitment to the club, and also his willingness to become involved with the community as a whole.”