It’s been a year since former TAC Cup head coach Brett Henderson’s coaching career was put on ice. But in 12 months of disappointment, reflection, and hard work he’s as fired up as ever to return to his life-long passion.
Almost a year ago to the day, Henderson’s world was thrown into turmoil. The then head coach of TAC Cup side Bendigo Pioneers found himself suddenly jobless when he was told that he was being moved on after only two years at the helm – and to make matters worse he found out from a third party.
“It was pretty deflating, to be honest” Henderson stated.
“My mid-year review from AFL Victoria was really good” he added, “it was certainly not something I was really expecting”
I set some pretty high standards, and perhaps I just set them too high.
It wasn’t just a shock to the man himself as many others were surprised to hear the news. A two year stint in any coaching role is barely enough to impact a program, especially one that has struggled in recent years like the Pioneers. Despite developing AFL stars such as the Selwood’s and a certain Dustin Martin, The “‘Pios” best return in the last seven seasons is 11th place with four wins – incidentally Henderson’s last in charge.
“It was really about changing the culture [about his role at the club], I just felt we needed to change some things up player wise” Henderson said
“There’s a lot of talent in the region” he continued,
“But there was a feeling that they want some success, and to commit to program that isn’t going to get beaten by 15 goals each week” He continued
“There was a lot of things happening in the region that were really good, and we were heading in the right direction as a group.
“The TAC Cup is about development, but as part of that development, it’s important to learn how to win.
“I set some pretty high standards, and perhaps I just set them too high.”
A difference of opinion by management is what ultimately seemed to have pushed Henderson out, although a full explanation was never forthcoming from the club. It may just have been a case of timing, and he may have just been too soon. In a competition that year on year strives towards a more professional outlook, it certainly seemed an odd decision from the outside, as Henderson’s CV heading into his role at the Pioneers, makes for impressive reading – and success and development seem to have a habit of following him.
After moving interstate to WA to pursue footy in the WAFL, he returned to Victoria to follow his dream of coaching football.
“My dad was a coach, and it was always something I wanted to do since I was a young fella” the Seymour native stated.
After an initial assistant coach role in Sale, and an out of the blue opportunity to head coach Lake Boga up in Swan Hill, Henderson soon found himself in the Riverina league – pitting his wits against ex AFL stars such as Terry and Chris Daniher and Merv Neagle, who were all coaching there at the time.
“I just really enjoyed it, I coached at a place called Leeton” Henderson reflected.
“They’ve just won the Premiership actually, their first in 39 years I think” he continued.
They certainly did, and in fact gave credit to Henderson for being the instigator in transforming their culture all those years ago. The foundation he built, helping turn the club around.
— Leeton-Whitton Crows (@LWCrows) September 26, 2017
After a move to Echuca, which saw Henderson earn his AFL Level 3 training licence whilst also claiming an U18 Premiership and two Senior Prelims, he took his coaching to the next level with a move to the VFL and Williamstown as a coach of their development squad.
…the players, the coaching staff. I couldn’t speak more highly of the club.
It was here where Henderson fully realised that coaching was his calling, eventually making the move away from his role as a deputy school principal and into football full-time. But the challenges ahead would certainly be stiffer than those he’d faced previously. Henderson, however, was eager to tackle them.
“ [when I got to Williamstown] I looked back on my early years as a coach and thought ‘geez what have I been doing?’” Henderson joked.
“To get down there and to be able to learn the new methods, tactics and strategies, was a real eye opener, and just gave me that thirst to stay in that elite footy program”
It proved to be a very important point in Henderson’s development too, claiming back to back Premierships for the development squad in 2013/14 while helping develop the likes of future AFL Premiership stars Jason Johannisen and Lachie Hunter. It’s a time that Henderson himself looks back on with great affection and pride.
“I absolutely loved it! The club was brilliant; the culture, the players, the coaching staff. I couldn’t speak more highly of the club” he stated emphatically.
“To learn from Peter German and Andy Collins, I just felt privileged. They are both fantastic footy brains and just fantastic coaches”
It was at this point, after the 2014 flag for Williamstown, that Henderson made the switch to the TAC Cup, becoming Bendigo’s sixth head coach. Despite his successes in the past, his time was cut short and all of a sudden he was left with some big decisions. It was a time that was clearly difficult.
“Yeah, it wasn’t the greatest period” Henderson exclaimed with a sense of understatement.
“My contract didn’t run out until November, and with only a few weeks of the school year left after that, finding a teaching job wasn’t an option”
He was offered a minor coaching role soon after but despite going through the process, eventually declined to take it up.
“Something just wasn’t right with it” Henderson recalls
“It just wasn’t a right fit at that stage, for me or the club. Something just nagged at me that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind.
“I was almost like getting dumped and then rebounding to someone really quickly” he joked.
With full time coaching jobs few and far between, Henderson needed to find something, and instead of waiting, he took matters into his own hands, starting up Pro Programs.
Using his experience of elite level coaching, Henderson has been operating Pro Programs to work with local footy clubs and individuals to help improve their game. It helped him keep his hand in coaching, but more importantly helped “put food on the table”.
His experience has also led him to partner up with elite strength and conditioning coach Christian Woodford – who has assisted in training over a dozen draftees over the last few years. With Woodford, Henderson is working on a couple of projects where they are identifying young football talent and offering the coaching and physical training that will enable to get the most out of their footy.
“It’s just a case of giving them every opportunity to play TAC Cup footy first, and then secondly, hoping they are good enough to go on and get drafted” Henderson stated
“For me, it’s just a great way to stay involved in coaching”
…you get to share those really high highs. There’s just no better feeling
And that is the crux of it. For Henderson, there is nothing he would rather be doing than coaching footy.
“I feel I’ve still got plenty to offer as a coach, so I just want to get back into it” Henderson said.
“Watching players develop. Trying to put things to players to help them develop, and then seeing it come through in games. It’s just really exciting.
“The connections you make with players on their journey is such a highlight, and if you can achieve success, then you get to share those really high highs. There’s just no better feeling” he exuded.
“I’ve had 12 months to freshen up, watch footy closely, and now I’m even more ready to go”
One thing is for sure, there’s no doubt he’s ready. Talking to Henderson, he’s open, friendly and a very likeable man, and when it comes to footy it’s clear that he absolutely loves the game and especially coaching.
Success has a habit of following him, and there’s no doubt he would bring a massive wealth of knowledge as well as masses of enthusiasm to any role he took on. Hopefully, he finds an opportunity again soon, as having his passion out of the game is definitely footy’s loss.