The era of the young rookie AFL coach looks over … at least for now.

North Melbourne's appointment of David Noble - at 53 and armed with a versatile, extensive footy CV - as its new senior coach reflects the seismic shift towards more experienced individuals sitting in footy's hottest seat.

Coaching legends Kevin Sheedy and Mick Malthouse have long lamented how ageism too often slammed the senior coaching door shut on coaches in their 50s.

But now the footy world has once more woken up to the elixir of experience.


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Chris Fagan and David Noble at the Gabba. Picture: Annette Dew
Chris Fagan and David Noble at the Gabba. Picture: Annette Dew

While Noble has never coached at AFL level before, and hasn't coached his own team for years, he has filled a number of senior AFL roles across many years while the coaching bug slowly gnawed away at him.

Rhyce Shaw's difficult experience as a rookie coach in the "not-so-perfect storm" of a COVID-interrupted season isn't the sole reason for the shift.

The tribulations of a number of ex-coaches off the field has shone a light on just how difficult a senior AFL coaching role can be, and how experience can, at least, elevate some of those pressures.

Michael Voss told us as much.

He concedes he wasn't ready when fast-tracked into the Brisbane coaching position at 33. He has now spent the past seven years working on developing the skills that will one day lead him back to the right senior role.

The Chris Fagan template interested North Melbourne from the start of their search.

The fact Noble was so deeply connected to the Lions coach, and to Brisbane's reinvention, played no small part in delivering him the Kangaroos job.

The relative success of Brett Ratten at St Kilda - in his second stint as an AFL coach - has also helped transform the narrative.

Leading football analyst Mick McGuane has always believed successful coaches are those who generally come from well-rounded backgrounds.

"The coach is at the cornerstone of every discussion at a club, no matter what level you are talking about," McGuane said.

"It is all about building relationships and knowing your players."

McGuane pointed to Queensland State of Origin coach Wayne Bennett - at 70 - as an example of why coaches should never have a used-by date, while Melbourne Storm's 2020 premiership coach Craig Bellamy is also 61.

"Birth certificates are irrelevant," McGuane said.

"Have a look at Wayne Bennett. He can bring 14 debutants into a State of Origin series on the back of a season already finished and still stimulate and motivate the players. He got them up for a series when everyone said they couldn't do it."


Mark Williams coaching Werribee in the 2019 VFL finals series. Picture: Michael Klein.
Mark Williams coaching Werribee in the 2019 VFL finals series. Picture: Michael Klein.


Robert Shaw, who was Fitzroy's coach when Noble played his two AFL games in 1991, said he was pleased to see older coaches considered for senior roles, though he is perplexed that Mark Williams (62) and Gary Ayres (60) continue to be overlooked.

"It still puzzles me why proven, experienced coaches in the prime of their coaching, like Mark Williams and Gary Ayres, can be overlooked for (someone) who is basically an untried coach, even though I feel he (Noble) is in a very good age bracket for the role," Shaw said.

The three previous full-time North Melbourne coaches were all under 40 when first appointed.

Even Denis Pagan was only 45 when he called up to coach the Kangaroos in March 1993.

The last time the Kangaroos appointed an older coach than Noble for the first time at the club was three-time Hawthorn premiership coach John Kennedy, who reignited his coaching career in 1985 when he was 56.

That's not to say young rookie coaches won't be back in vogue again one day.

But what is patently clear is that AFL clubs value life experience as every bit as important as the other attributes required for coaches now.


Originally published as Does the 'too old' tag still exist in footy?