Murray Davis has been the Assistant Coach to the Brisbane Lions AFL team since 2011. Murray has also coached the NT Thunder in the NEAFL and led them to the premiership win in the inaugural season and was named QLD Coach of the Year in 2006.
Your coaching career began straight after you finished playing for the Zillmere Eagles. Was coaching something you thought you would go straight into or did it just happen?
It was probably on the back of a couple of injuries when I was playing. I found myself sitting in on a few coaches meetings and when you spend so long in rehab trying to get your body right, you do learn and find different ways to occupy yourself and that is sort of how it all started.
I started coaching my younger brothers team and that was just to keep me busy and active in Football. As it grew I coached the reserves for one year and I went into to coaching the Seniors and eventually took over the head coach role at Zillmere Eagles. I always had a love for coaching and a love for the game.
You have been with the Lions since 2011. How has your role changed over time?
In my first year I was actually the runner, so I had to get fit first and it was working with the key defenders so Joel Patfull, Matt Maguire and Dan Merrett I learnt a lot, I didn’t enjoy the running aspect of the game, but it was great for me to experience what it was like out there on the field and how quick the game was. I really enjoyed that the first year and then I moved into the backline and started coaching that area. I also did a couple of years of strategy and I am now back coaching the back line.
Professional AFL players often move into coaching but you hadn’t played at that level so did the running aspect give you a real insight into the game?
Yeah, it gave me an indication of the speed of the game, how fit they had to be. Having not played at the highest level and within my own coaching when I was coaching at the NT Thunder we played against a lot of the reserve grade teams, so you sort of had a bit of an idea, but there is nothing like experiencing it in that position.
You have coached Youth Football as well as Senior Football. What is the difference between the two?
Looking back at my time coaching Junior Football, it really is just about teaching them the fundamentals, making sure they get that right. We spend a lot of time on mastering their craft and making it really enjoyable. It really isn’t too different to senior football. Obviously, we have a little more structure involved, but I think the main focus for Junior Football is ensuring they are learning the fundamentals and making it fun.
When you are coaching Youth Football, you have kids that are at all different experience and skill level, so it is important to let them experience different positions and the fundamentals. The fundamentals do change as you go along.
You have been the Head Coach (at the NT Thunder) and Assistant coach, how do the two positions differ?
As a head coach you are managing not only your playing staff, but your coaching staff and your off field staff so there is a lot of management involved in it. NT was quite unique in that we had players based in Darwin, Alice Springs, Katherine, Tee Wee Islands and really remote areas. So there was a lot of logistical work involved as the head coach, where as the assistant coach you are there to support the head coach and look after a small group of players. At NT, I was looking after around 50 players whereas, at the Lions on the weekends you are probably looking after 7 players and during the week up to 15 people. A lot more personal and building those relationships is really important.
The Lions have been able to secure a lot of the same playing group which shows there is a great team culture. As a coach, how do you influence the culture of the team?
Most sporting clubs and businesses talk about having a trademark and something they stand for. It is really important as coaches that we live and breathe that. That is the biggest thing cultural wise is having a really strong leadership group and open lines of communication and that comes down to being able to build relationships so you can have those conversations.
How important do you think a player/coach relationship is, at any level?
It is integral to have success. It allows you to support someone, it allows you to have conversations, it allows you to work on someones game whether that be on field or off field. That is a key part of it, if you can build a relationship with the players and they trust you it allows you to move forward.
What are your recommendations for delivering feedback when something needs improvement?
It is different for each person. You have to know what sort of relationship you have with that player, along with understanding how they learn and take on feedback. At the Lions, we spend a lot of time on how that looks. Is it going through and practicing something, is it looking at vision, is it sitting down and talking, is it drawing it up on the whiteboard. I think once you get to know your players and learn how they best take feedback and it is also getting their buy into it as well and understanding why they may have done something.
The Lions, and teams in general, go through highs and lows. Does your coaching change when you are winning compared to when things aren’t really going your way?
Not for me personally. That is one thing I learnt from Chris Fagan and that is the process doesn’t really change whether we win or lose, it is about celebrating the little wins along the way, which is something that is really important especially if you aren’t winning games and just being able to identify those key moments. For myself, it is just sticking to the plan and keep reviewing it to make sure what you have put in place is tracking in the right direction.
Do you feel as though if you are more consistent as a coach, the players will be more consistent and know what to expect from you?
It is a really key part to coaching, having consistency. It doesn’t mean that you can’t change things. If you are going to change things you probably just have to communicate the ‘why?’. I think consistency helps because it helps everyone understand the ‘why?’ and they aren’t jumping around. It might be an opponent you are coming against as to why you are changing the plan. I think if you keep a fairly consistent plan it will hold you in good stead.
For coaches that are new to coaching. What is a fundamental thing you have learnt that you would pass onto them?
Listen. As coaches, we are all guilty of it, sometimes we think we need to do all the talking and have the final say. I think the real art of coaching is being able to listen, listen to the players and listen to the people around you. Ultimately, you do have the final say on what you want to do as a coach, but I think listening is a key ingredient to being a good coach.
When you structure a session what do you focus on and how important is prep going into a session?
Preparation is everything. We make sure everything is co-ordinated, we go right down to how long we spend on a drill. We try to give opportunities to players to work in their units, so that backline working together, but there will be times where we work with the forwards and the mids and also where we all work together. It is about planning and identify key themes that might come out of a game or you might want to take into a game on the weekend and you feel you want to work on.
Away from training you look at vision. How many hours before going into a game would you spend looking at vision and preparing drills?
From an AFL level, we are very lucky that we get access to footage from the games. I can go back and look at full games with four different camera angles, it is about those key things you want to pass onto the players. From a coaching perspective I would normally go back and watch 3 or 4 games and watch for certain things. I might watch 8 hours of vision, but to the players I might only show them 3 minutes. It is about the information you want to give them and what you have access to. Sometimes you can complicate things by giving them too much information, so ensuring there is key information that is relevant to them. We would show the players how to match up on someone and what the opponents like to do, so then we can try and take some things into the game to try and combat that.
The Lions this year showed some really great signs of development as a team. As coaches, what is a realistic goal moving into the 2019 season?
It is improving and finding those little things to work on. We think we have some real weapons in our group, as coaches we need to make sure we keep building on those, and there is obviously gaps that we are trying to bridge. It has been really good to go and watch the AFL Finals and see the intensity because that is what we are trying to achieve.
Do you focus on wins and losses or are there other key areas you focus on to show your improvement?
I think it is important to find those key areas you want to improve each week, because if you just focus on win/loss especially as a coach, I’m not sure if you will have a huge career because it will just do your head in. I would encourage coaches to find things you can measure that shows improvements.
When a team isn’t performing, the spotlight does go onto the coach and that comes from media and other avenues. Do you think it is right placed onto the coach or it is player and coach driven?
Ultimately, the coach is the one communicating everything to the public, so he or she will be the face of the team. Internally, each person does have their own role to play, within the four walls of the club everyone is working to gather to try and achieve something. Usually everyone wants to hear from the head coach and that is where the responsibility will usually fall.
Would you ever be a head coach?
I have done it at a lower level and I really enjoyed it. I sit back and marvel at how much work they put in. There are some parts of it where I think I would love to do that one day, but there are parts of it where I can leave that for someone else.
Harris Andrews is someone who is going from strength to strength. Is he someone you have worked with closely?
Yeah, he is a pleasure to work with. He is a real student of the game and wants to keep getting better. He is meticulous in the way he prepares and he is easy to coach. You know he has a real passion to keep improving and he is already ranked quite highly in the key defenders the competition, but he definitely has a bright future ahead of him.
There are some big games on the weekend, what are you tips?
I think the Pies will take it to Richmond, but I can’t go past the Tigers. The way they play and their understanding of how they play the game and how they play together, I think that will get the over the line. They are really selfless and work so hard for one another.
West Coast taking on Melbourne. I think Melbourne will win, it will be a tough ask going over to Perth, but I just think they have a game style that is really great and that is why they ended up in Finals. I think it will be a Richmond v Melbourne Grand Final.
Finals Footy is about dealing with pressure and all of the teams in the top four have been really good at it and I think Richmond will go back to back.