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  • Writer's pictureJohn Townsend

Dilemma over West Perth coach succession

“Stay the course,” Darren Harris urged the West Perth players during the last break in Sunday’s game against Swan Districts.

The plea didn’t work. The Falcons sank by 15 points, taking their premiership defence with them.

Harris might now be pondering whether he should live up to his own words.

The West Perth coach took the job for two years when he was appointed in late 2021 with a loose succession plan to hand over to assistant Jason Salecic at some not-so distant point in the future.

Salecic has done a solid apprenticeship as a player, senior assistant and reserves coach; he is clearly a senior coach in waiting.

And the thinking at the time of Harris’ appointment was that 2024 would probably be the ideal season for one West Perth premiership captain to hand the coaching reins to another West Perth premiership captain.

But the landscape has changed and the thinking could – and maybe should - change with it.

West Perth have seven matches left this year – unless there is a miracle in which they shrug off their premiership hangover long enough to win at least six of them – before they turn their sights on next season.

It has been a thoroughly inept premiership defence apart from the inflated highpoint of the record-breaking 169-point win over a West Coast team closer to an amateur outfit than a genuine league opponent.

Still, plenty of West Perth supporters will accept a hangover season if that is the price of winning a flag.

It is more than 80 years since the then Cardinals backed up one flag with another; more than 70 since a premiership was followed by another grand final appearance.

It appears to be in the West Perth DNA that the taste of great success is followed by a bilious morning after.

Harris’s DNA is to fight to the last moment, to honour a commitment through to its last line and finest detail.

Ego, character and history will tell him to take West Perth to the finish line – no matter whether that is 5pm in round 20 or grand final day a month later.

And footy logic and tradition urges players, coaches and everyone else involved in the game to “stay the course”, to give everything of themselves until the final siren.

Yet there is a strong case that West Perth’s cause would be best served by Salecic starting his senior coaching journey during this season rather than waiting until the start of pre-season.

He is already running a lot of West Perth’s training and should anticipate a virtually seamless transition into the senior job.

West Perth have a bye this week and then another in a month.

They are a mathematical chance to play finals at the moment though that faint prospect might have evaporated by the time the round 16 bye comes around.

It would be entirely unorthodox – and that is a trait that few clubs or coaches are entirely comfortable with – to replace Harris with Salecic while the season is underway.

But four games at the helm might prove the perfect finish to his apprenticeship and give him a head start in forging the relationships with the West Perth players that will be crucial to his success as coach.

Harris has nothing to prove after winning flags in each of his two coaching stints at the club.

He will leave the job sooner or later knowing he has left his club in good shape to face its next challenge.

The only question he needs to ask himself is whether an exit sooner rather than later would benefit all parties.

IMAGE: The West Australian.


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