How Swans mastermind flew ‘under the radar’ to stop the bleeding in rise few saw coming
John Longmire is preparing to lead the Sydney Swans into their fourth Grand Final with him in charge to continue his remarkable run as coach and ever-growing legacy.
While the Swans’ opponent in Saturday’s decider, Geelong, has earned its due plaudits for consistently challenging for flags, Sydney’s own record under Longmire is equally impressive.
Since taking over as the Swans coach in 2011, the club has missed the finals on just two occasions including an impressive 63 per cent win rate across 282 games in a showing of absolute consistency and high performance.
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They’ve been the envy of the competition for many years and epitomise strong culture and systems, all under Longmire’s watch.
While Longmire has delivered just one flag in 2012 and they’ve since fallen short in 2014 and 2016, his capacity to constantly drive the team to challenge for the ultimate glory puts him in rare company as the mastermind behind the club’s success.
Players, legends and other staffers have come and gone during that period, but the main constant for Sydney has been Longmire as it now ushers in a new era of the famous Bloods culture.
And although his record speaks for itself, Longmire never seems to be in the conversation as one of the greatest AFL coaches of the modern era or best bosses currently.
“They won in 2012 and then it’s been obviously 10 years since. You look at that and you say ‘he’s just a coach that flies under the radar’,” former Hawthorn sharpshooter Ben Dixon told foxfooty.com.au.
“This is pretty fitting that in the last 10 years, Sydney hasn’t bottomed out. They dipped, yes, but they had to – and they dipped and responded.
“John’s ability to coach that team at such a high level like Chris Scott, but to keep them up and above water and be able to do that for such a long time? That’s an incredibly hard job.
“I mean Clarko won his three premierships, but they haven’t played finals for four years. The Swans haven’t done that. The Swans have stayed up.”
Ten years on from the club’s last premiership triumph led by club greats like Adam Goodes, Josh Kennedy and Ryan O’Keefe — and a day where current co-captain Luke Parker was the sub — Longmire will now look to guide the new-age Swans to the ultimate glory.
Only seven Swans from their 2016 Grand Final side — plus Gary Rohan playing for the visitors — will take the field in Saturday’s decider in a showing of how consistently they’ve maintained elite standards with different manpower.
The 2019 and 2020 seasons were the only two under Longmire where they’ve missed the finals, but the club used those years unearthing and developing the likes of Callum Mills, Nick Blakey, Chad Warner and James Rowbottom, who’ll have a big say in the premiership decider.
Further to that, those names will lead Sydney into an exciting new era where you sense they’ll feature on the last Saturday in September a few more times.
And throughout those down years there was a feeling of a sleeping giant preparing to rise again behind its promising core of stars.
Western Bulldogs champion Brad Johnson argued that Longmire “should be” rated amongst the great coaches of this century for the record he’s consistently produced with different personnel.
“Now even more so the fact that he’s got these players 22 years and under absolutely dominating the game,” the 364-gamer told foxfooty.com.au.
“For him to step out of the era of the superstars that he had, to now be coaching a younger group, it shows he can coach at either end of the spectrum.
“It’s different coaching as well. You’ve got guys in different stages of their careers and how you can best bring that out. He’s shown he can coach the superstars and a collective group of superstars and manage that, and he can also coach and get the best out of a group of youngsters that are going to take the club forward for the next eight years.
“To coach both spectrums but get the best out of the players is just outstanding.
“I think that holds him in great heights now. He mightn’t have the flags, but in terms of coaching ability, absolutely first class.”
Dixon pointed out that although Sydney’s game plan has been perceived as “dour” in the past, there’s “method to Longmire’s madness” given he was developing young talent concurrently.
“The key to maintaining enthusiasm, hunger, fanatical young talent is to be able to stop the haemorrhaging. A lot of teams bring in talent but get smashed. But the Swans have rarely got smashed, because he’s almost nurtured them,” the former Hawk said.
“Longmire said: ‘OK it’s a slow build, but we’re not going to haemorrhage. We’ll chip away and then we’re going to put layers on.’ He’s almost like Lego.
“He got that foundation of a hard, inside, stoppage game hard – and it stopped the bleeding and they bided their time while bringing these young kids through in that game. Then they stacked on top a little offence – that’s incredible coaching.”
The Swans surged into the Grand Final after wins over the Demons and Magpies — surviving a late scare against the latter in last week’s preliminary final at the SCG after a dominant first half.
It takes Sydney’s winning streak to nine games as it’ll go into the decider full of confidence despite coming up against a Geelong outfit that hasn’t lost since May 14 amid its own incredible run of 15-straight victories.
However if there’s anyone who could forge a plan to take down the minor premier Cats that’ve looked unbeatable for months, it’s Longmire.
For Dixon, what separates Longmire from other coaches is his ability to disarm the opposition’s strengths — just like against fellow top-four sides Melbourne and Collingwood.
“I think they’re the best team in the competition – and have been for a long time – at taking the opposition’s game away,” he said.
“You can go in and play your way – and there’s an element of hope that ‘if we execute what we want to do, we win’ – but they almost reverse engineer. John coaches the opposite: ‘If we can take this part of their game away in the strongest form, we’ll win.’
“So for a team to think that way as opposed to ‘play our way’, that’s a remarkable trait as a coach to be able to get a team to do that. That’s what a lot of people overlook is that through this final series, they’ve taken away the strengths of the opposition.”
We don’t often see much emotion out of the straight faced and cool Longmire. But should he lead Sydney to more silverware on Saturday, some of that emotion will undoubtedly come pouring out.
He’s seen as a father figure to Swans players, yet a best mate at the same time.
And Johnson believes Longmire’s calm demeanour is ultimately what makes him so successful as well as his connection with his players.
“He’s calm, that’s the thing I take from John in having the opportunity to speak to him throughout the year when we do Sydney games,” he said.
“He’s got a great relationship with all the players. We showed some vision throughout the year when he’s hugging Warner in the rooms, you can see the players absolutely love being coached by him. ,
“His presence and demand is huge, but I think he’s really calm in his delivery of that. He’s been outstanding.
“We judge teams for what happens over a two-hour time period and you can see the over pouring of emotion in the coaches box. Quite often it’s not like that during the week, it’s very much a considered approach.
“I think he’s got that management side of coaching in a really good sweet spot at the moment.”
- with Ben Waterworth