By Matt Fotia
Heathmont’s endless potential and level of professionalism has helped it land a highly rated senior coach for 2021 and beyond.
And he thinks the sky’s the limit for the Jets.
Like many of us, Nick Rutley’s year has been an interesting one.
At the start he was part of the North Melbourne AFLW coaching staff, helping the Kangaroos on their merry way as they set their sights on a premiership and had just been part of a level 3 coaching course with new coaching rival Brendan Whitecross.
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Meanwhile Lilydale Football and Netball Club are on the lookout for a new coach with fan favourite Ben Neagle stepping down from the role.
— Eastern FNL (@footyefl) July 30, 2020
Fast forward to September and Rutley is now a head coach, not at the peak of the female game, but smack bang in the middle of Victoria’s premier metropolitan competition.
It’s not the first foray into clubland for the ex Box Hill, Casey, Calder Cannons, Dandenong Stingrays and Carlton AFLW assistant – Rutley also coached two senior games for the Blues, winning one and losing one – having steered Wandin to a premiership in 2018 during his two year stint at the AFL Outer East club.
Rutley always knew he would end up back at the community level.
He just didn’t know when.
“Clubland was never out of my thoughts – I always knew I’d end up back here, but not as soon as what I have – we were flying at North Melbourne (AFLW) before Covid hit, well on the way to playing in a grand final and really thinking we could win it,”
“So I was obviously quite happy there, but when it all hit the fan and Scotty (Gowans) got moved on, I started to get a bit nervous.”
This was of course not the first time Rutley had parted ways with an AFLW club, but this time something felt different.
“The thing that was different last time (departure from Carlton) was that I really wanted to see where AFLW could take me and was really passionate about chasing the women’s space,”
“But this time around I didn’t feel like that, I didn’t want another assistant’s role or to go back to the NAB league, I strongly felt that I wanted to go back to club land and be at a club where I could hang around for a long period of time.”
Heathmont is that club in his eyes.
Rutley penned a three year deal at HE Parker just last week, in what was a relatively quick process from start to finish.
Both he and the club were keen to move quickly with the coaching marketplace a highly active one, as clubs much higher up the pyramid begin to shed weight.
The EFNL was always the target destination for Rutley, who played for a handful of EFNL clubs across the 2000’s.
He has watched from afar in recent times as clubs like Rowville, South Croydon, Doncaster, North Ringwood, Montrose and most recently Doncaster East have worked their way up the divisions to become ‘destination clubs’, something both Rutley and the Jets are aiming for.
“The EFNL was somewhere I really wanted to end up, but I did have some offers from the VAFA, EDFL and MPNFL and I got down to the wire on a couple of the jobs, but by the time I got around to making my decision I couldn’t stop coming back to what could possibly happen at Heathmont.
“I just couldn’t get away from the potential here – the new rooms, the plethora of ‘one point players’ on the list, so much young talent and a core group of older heads that still have a lot to give,”
“Add in the slashing of the salary caps, which should lead to some levelling out across the whole league, and it gives you the chance to be really aspirational and get a club like Heathmont to the Premier Division.”
If Premier Division is the goal, attacking football is the method for Rutley.
His brand is one that will likely bring crowds through the gates in 2021 if his last role of this capacity at Wandin is anything to go by.
Rutley’s charges were the number one ranked offence each season, booting 1923 points in the 2017 home and away season and 1993 in 2018, averaging 108 points per game across those 36 regular season games.
Add in the 300 plus points they kicked in the 2018 finals series and you’ve got some exciting viewing on your hands.
“That (attacking football) is the only way that I know and I think Heathmont picked up on that during the interview process and they were keen to pursue that style of football and coaching,” he said on the topic of his ‘brand’.
Off the field however Rutley says things must change.
Gone are the days of points scoring and authoritative regimes.
The podcast host (Hear The Voice podcast) is hellbent on making sure that his new club will be a safe space for all of its members to escape the rigours of life, something everyone in Victoria can appreciate right now.
“During the whole process, one of the things that was front of mind was the fact that we can’t go back to the way things were before covid, across the whole football industry,”
“We need to be a lot more lenient and transparent with our playing groups and be more flexible,”
“In the past coaches would usually become annoyed if a player had to leave training early because they had a birthday or so on, but I see it that we need to work with the players to make sure that Heathmont is an outlet for them just as much as it is a place for them come and play good football,” Rutley said.
“It needs to be that space for players, staff and fans to get away from the bullshit of everyday life.”
“If you miss a training session or something like that, pay it back another way – go and roll a footy at an under 12 kid at junior training and be seen down there – little things like that.”
Heathmont President, Rob Parker said in a club statement that the Jets had sought a “coach with senior experience, who had tasted success and knew what it took to bring about the further development and improvement of young players, but at the same time, would be able to motivate our loyal band of more experienced players to stay the course and enjoy the rewards to come,”
“Nick is a highly motivated and enthusiastic coach who has a wealth of experience and knowledge that will be of tremendous benefit to our whole playing group, young and old, and as a club we are rapt to have secured his services.”