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Coaching natural for Fagan

Chris Fagan remembers being told he was born to be a coach. He's not sure who said it, or when, but after a season in the Brisbane hot seat he's sure there was something in it.

A seemingly left-field appointment when he was tapped as Hawthorn football manager to replace Justin Leppitsch, Fagan has gone on to transform a club in just 12 months and generate excitement among a player group that had lost confidence.     

The evidence is in the spate of player re-signings, the ability to attract new talent, stability with key off-field personnel and the fact the players didn't want last season to end, despite finishing with five wins and on the bottom of the ladder. 

Fagan's long path to the Lions' top job included roles as a reserves and development coach with Melbourne, football manager at both the Dees and Hawthorn, and head of coaching with the Hawks.

It is a diverse resume, and his success as the Hawks' head of coaching and then football manager might have led others to believe he had found his perfect role in the game as an influential but less visible mentor. 

When Lions CEO Greg Swann started his search for Leppitsch's replacement, however, he was told by Fagan on their first phone call that he was a coach and he was ready for that role. 

"It feels pretty natural," Fagan told as he enters his second season in charge.  

"I think I've always been a coach. I think I was born to do it. I think someone said that to me at some stage, I don't know when it was, but I thought that's probably right.

"I've been appreciative for any role I've had in AFL footy and it's all been great preparation for coaching.

"I know at 55 that probably sounds a bit old to get your first gig, but for me with my background, I think that was the best way for me to go."

When the Hawthorn 'coaching school' is discussed, four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson is more often than not singled out as the reason so many of his assistants have graduated to senior positions.    

Brendon Bolton (Carlton), Adam Simpson (West Coast), Leon Cameron (Greater Western Sydney) and premiership coaches Luke Beveridge (Western Bulldogs) and Damien Hardwick (Richmond) have all come off the Hawks' production line.  

But those same coaches say Fagan's influence on them during his tenure as head of coaching and development should not be underrated. 

While he watched his protégés leave the Hawks to realise their coaching dreams, Fagan said he had started to think his opportunity to do the same might have passed him by.

"I watched 'Bolts' go off to Carlton, a young bloke I'd coached as a 16-year-old, and he went after it and he got his opportunity," Fagan said.

"I thought, 'Well it's about time if something comes my way I should have a crack'.

"I have and I don't regret it for one moment. I love every minute of it, even though it is hard at times. You have to make hard decisions, you have to have hard conversations, and you can't shy away from those sorts of things." 

Fagan and David Noble chat with Carlton Coach Brendon Bolton at the 2017 AFL Draft. 

When you dig deeper into Fagan's football history, the proposition that he was born to coach starts to make more sense.  

His father, Austin, was a coach on the west coast of Tasmania and Fagan grew up in the change rooms by his father's side, watching the way his players respected him and looked to him for advice. 

"He was a coach for many years and it is sort of in my blood I suppose," Fagan said.

"He was a real relationship coach when I look back, and that's me too. You can't get the trust of people until you build those relationships and you're in their corner and you want them to be good. 

"Whether you're giving feedback that's positive or sometimes a little bit on the harder side, they'll take it from you because they know you've got their best interests at heart.

"That's the philosophy of my coaching."

When Fagan was inaugural coach of the Tassie Mariners in the TAC Cup from 1995-97, Austin was the property manager and the advice on his decisions and coaching moves would flow on car rides home.    

A passionate product of Tasmanian football, Fagan then moved to Melbourne under coach Neale Daniher, but he watched as the Mariners system – a key plank in the pathway to the AFL for young players in the state – was taken away in 2002. 

He believes the team's reintroduction to the elite under-18s system is the best thing the game could do to help Tasmanian football. 

"The kids in Tassie kids, their aim was to get into the Mariners, because that was the pathway to the AFL," Fagan said.  

"I can remember playing our first final in 1996 at Bellerive Oval and 10,000 people turned up to watch us play the Western Jets. People in Tassie are passionate about their footy.

"Now we don't have a Mariners team down there the young players can't quite see the pathway and they can't feel as close to it as they did then.

"I just feel like Tassie footy needs something like that again to get it going."

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs