Adam Kingsley had tried out for several senior AFL coaching jobs, with his bosses’ backing at Richmond. But when he finally landed one at GWS, everything changed.
Adam Kingsley had grown accustomed to the kiss-off phone call.
The kind of thanks-but-no-thanks decision that in some cases has put senior coaching aspirants further from their dream than ever before.
As the name of GWS football director Jimmy Bartel flashed up on his mobile phone on Sunday August 21, Kingsley was hoping for the best, but planning for the worst.
Melbourne assistant Adem Yze was tipped to win the GWS role and Kingsley had missed roles at Carlton and Collingwood only 12 months earlier.
Bartel’s next words would literally be life-altering.
“Jimmy Bartel gave me a call in the morning and just said, ‘The job is yours …’ Kingsley said this week.
“That was really gratifying. I have been through that process a few times and had the phone call where they say, ‘Sorry, we are going a different way’.
“There were a couple the year before (awarded to Michael Voss and Craig McRae), so that was the most recent 12 months prior where you get a couple of them. The thing you draw back on was the club boards can’t make a bad call really when you look at the people you are competing against.
“But you have these ebbs and flows. You wonder if this is ever going to happen. You wonder if you will get an opportunity. Am I good enough to get an opportunity? Maybe not. A bit of self-doubt creeps in and then it’s back to work.
“So to finally get it going my way was really pleasing for your family. And you are really excited but a bit scared. You are looking online at real estate, changing your life, changing where your kids go to school.”
Exactly six months on from that dramatic weekend so much has changed in Kingsley’s life.
Finishing his tenure at Richmond with a contentious finals loss, losing two of his best GWS midfielders to the Tigers, relocating to Sydney as his daughter stayed behind to embark upon a Melbourne university degree.
And then finally the summer of toil that has Kingsley invigorated by the challenge ahead and GWS thrilled by the choice it made back in August.
It is the culmination of 29 years in football – 13 as a player including a 2004 premiership at Port Adelaide, and 16 as an assistant coach under the kind of mad geniuses including Ross Lyon, Mark ‘Choco’ Williams, Damien Hardwick and the relatively sane Alan Richardson.
As 47-year-old Kingsley says: “You just try to take the best parts out of each of them. But you have to prioritise what you actually believe in. It’s going to marry up with what my beliefs are, too. I have got to back that in and at least if I fail I fail doing it my way.”
So 2019 and 2020 Tigers premiership assistant coach will happily borrow much of the club’s game plan.
But only after the Tigers stole two of Kingsley’s best two midfielders in Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper.
A SUMMER OF TRANSITION
Even before that fateful phone call from Bartel the Tigers and Kingsley had pledged that if he won the GWS job he would remain with Richmond until season’s end.
For all of 2022 Richmond had been scheming to trade for one of Hopper or Taranto … and suddenly Kingsley had a foot in both camps.
“We had finals to go and I made a really strong commitment to myself in that. I needed to commit to Richmond, I needed to make sure I did my job,” he said.
“(The recruitment pitches) were ongoing but there had been no firm decisions at that point. It was all more hope around can we (get one?). I was wearing my Richmond hat. I know Dimma (Hardwick) stopped talking to me. We were in discussions about it and then I got the (GWS) job and it was like: ‘Wrong person to talk to’.
“That was amusing on one hand. They were good quality players but it is what it is and we move forward.”
FLIPPING THE GAME PLAN ON ITS HEAD
Kingsley is promising many of the best features of the Richmond game plan – revel in the contest, quick ball movement – while also maximising the strengths of the GWS list.
The greatest indictment of GWS in recent years, at a club that admits it hasn’t maximised its talent, is that it didn’t bring non-negotiable effort.
The GWS game plan was trapped in the past as Collingwood and Melbourne followed Richmond’s chaotic forward-handball based quick ball movement.
“There will be a lot of similarities to how (Richmond have) played in the past. It’s stuff that I certainly believe in, I think it works. It’s obviously proven, particularly at the pointy end of the year,” he says.
“So there’ll be a lot of that, but I have brought in some assistants who are really experienced coaches in their own right. Ben Hart, Jeremy Laidlaw, Brent Montgomery, Craig Jennings, as the line coaches. Combined with myself it’s something like 100 years of footy. So when you look at it from that perspective, I’d be foolish to think that I’ve just got the best ideas and we’ll just do it my way.
“That Richmond style of game is a really attractive brand. You know, it‘s really fun to watch. And I think that’s important for us up here particularly to play that way, so we will look enjoyable to watch, playing that fast up-tempo type of game.”
He admits what keeps him up at night – “26 days to round 1 …. not that I’m counting”, he quips during Monday’s chat – is whether GWS will bring the heat all the time.
“Something that separates the really good teams from the sometimes-good teams is consistency and effort and attitude,” he says.
“At Richmond there was always a Richmond-style effort. You know you’re going to be in the game. So (at GWS) I will be a lot more comforted when I actually see it.”
Few doubt Toby Greene is the man to captain Greater Western Sydney.
But the road to that path has been rocky.
Stephen Coniglio was to share the co-captaincy with Phil Davis but declined to split the role so Davis and Cal Ward split the title in 2019, before Coniglio was sole captain in 2020 and 2021.
Last year Coniglio, Greene and Josh Kelly shared the role.
Kingsley reveals that it was his decision alone to pick a single captain despite how close the actual vote was.
“It was a tough decision when you have two or three guys and you say I am going to elevate one of you to sole captain and potentially break some hearts along the way,” he says.
“But my belief is you have one person lead the footy club and it wasn’t my decision as to who it was. It was our players and staff and coaches’ decision, and what I can tell you was it was incredibly tight. A lot tighter than expected. Out of that Toby finished on top.
“I just think the clarity (of a sole captain) makes it a lot easier. It is easy to pinpoint the captain on field and follow him. Particularly when he plays like Toby or when he plays like Trent Cotchin or Joel Selwood.
“I have seen (Toby) play for a long period of time. I think he plays like one of the great captains. When you think of the great captains across any sport, they are brilliant in the combative part of the game day. They stand out and lead the way. They inspire their teammates in the way they attack the contest.
“Look no further than Trent Cotchin the way he’s played the last five or six years. The way he attacks the contest. I see that in training in Toby as well. When he talks people listen. He’s definitely got the group and you know what, the votes were reflective of that.”
So can Greene have a similar on-field leadership as Joel Selwood, so inspirational again early in the 2022 grand final?
“He certainly has the capacity to do it. Let’s hope he can in a grand final.”
HAS GWS FINALLY FIXED ITS SALARY CAP?
The departures of Taranto, Hopper, Bobby Hill and Tanner Bruhn have all eased the GWS salary cap squeeze.
Coniglio, Nick Haynes, Josh Kelly and Greene are all still exceptionally well-paid, with ex-captain Davis playing on after in part because he was owed salary whether he took to the field or not.
But for Kingsley there is a real optimism that recent sacrifices have finally allowed GWS to solve a salary cap crisis that saw them jettisoning required players.
“When year after year after year you are paying that little bit more to keep players – the retention tax, as it’s called – at some stage it’s going to catch up. It is just how it is,” he says.
“I don’t know about the history of it anywhere near as intimately as Jason (McCartney) does but I feel like it’s in a pretty good spot now. We’ve got a few guys coming out of contract that we would be pretty keen to re-sign and feel those conversations are well down the track, but I think we’re in a really good position now for next year and years beyond.”
Free agent Harry Himmelberg will be a prized recruit for rivals but second-year midfielder Finn Callaghan is close to a new deal and Tom Green wants to stay.
“We are pretty confident of all of them to be fair, but (Green) is clearly a really good player and we want to keep him. There is no question.”
THE BRAINS AND THE BRAWN
The internet doesn’t miss a thing, going with headlines like “Footy world blown away by absolutely jacked Giants coach” on the day of his GWS appointment.
Kingsley can only laugh when asked if he saw those stories about his magnificent biceps.
“I did. Lucky they didn’t see my guts …. Look, I try. I enjoy it. It’s my outlet. Our coaches are good at it in terms of being disciplined to work out and get some exercise. So we have a bit of fun with it and it’s a good bonding exercise.”
The same internet also records that he beat rivals including Nathan Buckley and Peter Everitt in an Australia’s Brainiest Footballer TV special in 2006.
Brains and brawn indeed.
“There wasn’t much competition, I think,” he quips.
“I think (my topic) was something about the Olympics. From memory it was 20 grand (donated) to the old McGuinness-McDermott Foundation for kids with cancer in Adelaide so I was actually really pleased with being able to help them out.”
Originally published as AFL 2023: Adam Kingsley opens up on his exit from Richmond, new job as GWS coach