Opportunity flows for Rivers at Pies
Not many aspiring coaches receive the type of opportunity Jared Rivers has in 2017.
Just one year after retiring from a 13-season AFL playing career with Melbourne and Geelong, and only 12 months into a role as a development coach at Collingwood, Rivers was recently named the Magpies’ new Peter Jackson VFL senior coach.
The 32-year-old replaces 2016 VFL Coach of the Year Dale Tapping in one of the most prominent positions at arguably the biggest sporting club in Australia.
He spent 2016 working with Collingwood’s VFL back line and focusing on the preliminary finalists’ team defence structures, before opportunity arose when Tapping was appointed Brisbane’s new midfield coach at the end of the season.
“I probably wasn’t thinking one year into a two-year deal that I’d have this opportunity,” Rivers said. “But I felt I had a good rapport with the playing group and built some really good relationships, and understood the game plan and how we wanted to play.
“I think it’s a great pathway into coaching, to start in development. It just gives you a good understanding of how the whole footy program works. You get to observe things a bit more and ask questions of experienced coaches, and I felt like I did that really well in my first 12 months.”
Rivers’ task of replacing Tapping – who led the Magpies to the VFL finals in all four of his years at the helm and won a TAC Cup premiership as the Sandringham Dragons’ mentor in 2011 – won’t be easy, though.
“‘Tapps’ keeps telling me I’m under pressure,” Rivers laughed.
“I definitely learned a lot from him and the way he went about it. I think the no.1 thing was about building relationships with the playing group and also the staff around you.
“Especially in the VFL, you’ve got a lot of support staff who do a lot (of work) for little (recognition) and I think it’s really important the players understand that, while as a coach it’s about understanding what the VFL-listed players go through to play footy – most of them have full-time jobs and go to uni, so it’s a big effort for them.
“Building relationships is the key, and earning that trust with the playing group and being honest with them is a really important part. As a past player in the AFL system, I feel like honesty is probably the no.1 thing the players want.”
A reliable key defender at AFL level across 194 games, Rivers helped mould Collingwood into the VFL’s fourth-ranked outfit for points conceded during the 2016 home-and-away season.
Having then seen the Magpies give up 27 goals in a 119-point preliminary-final loss to Footscray and having also missed out on a premiership at AFL level himself, Rivers’ passion as a coach will be in assisting others to achieve the ultimate team success.
In fact, that flame was ignited while he was still part of the AFL’s playing ranks.
“I did a bit of work with Xavier College’s first XVIII team for about three or four years while I was still playing,” Rivers said. “It was just to dip my toe in, to see if I actually enjoyed the coaching side of it.
“These young kids wanting to learn and improve and enjoy their footy – three or four years with them made me realise it’s a passion of mine.
“I spoke to (former Melbourne teammate) Cameron Bruce who I’m still really close mates with – and he’s been a successful assistant coach at Hawthorn for years now – regarding the excitement you feel when you’ve got players who go out and implement stuff that you’re teaching them through the week.
“The first 12 months at Collingwood, I could see why it’s such an exciting job and role to play within a footy club. To know how hard you work during the week – which not a lot of supporters see – it’s good to see it come out on game day when it pays off.”
Rivers’ appointment is not the only off-field change at the VFL Magpies for 2017, with General Manager Luke Gatti heading north to take up a role as NEAFL Operations Manager. Gatti will be replaced by former Williamstown Football & Development Manager Chris Dixon.