CRAIG Allen is another of the SBL stalwarts getting a much-deserved opportunity as head coach in 2019 and he’s not in it for the short term with the Perth Redbacks, he wants to help set up something that is capable of sustained success.
It would be one of the great understatements to say that Allen has done an extensive apprenticeship to now earn this opportunity as a head coach in the SBL for the first time.
Most recently Allen has been part of the era of success as assistant coach at the Willetton Tigers in the Women’s SBL but beyond that he has also been coach of the West Australian under-20s team and coached extensively at WABL level with Willetton.
While leaving Willetton where he had such a tremendous bond with Simon Parker was anything but an easy decision, but Allen felt it might very well have been now or never to bite the bullet and take on the challenge of coaching a team in the SBL in his own right.
And it wasn’t so much the fact that the Redbacks were coming off such an impressive 2018 season finishing the regular season in second spot and then going on to only be eliminated in two games of the semi finals against the Mandurah Magic.
What attracted Allen most to the job with the Redbacks was the direction the entire club is going and the culture they are building, and he felt like it was something he wanted to not only be part, but at the centre of continuing to create.
“One of the reasons for moving was that it wouldn’t be a one-year deal. It’s a two-year contract to start with and I definitely think that part of what I see my role as is to grow and develop a program, and build one over a number of years,” Allen said.
“I think that’s very much part of the mantra we are looking at and it doesn’t mean we don’t want to be successful this year, we would love to be and that’s the motivation as a competitor every single time you step out onto the court, but you have more sustained success by developing strong culture.
“That’s the goal for the club to have that sustained longer-term success definitely.”
Now that the season is closing in, Allen is finalising preparation for a group that has seen the arrival of Lauren Mansfield and Rosie Deegan to a group still including Jess Jakens, Alix Hayward, Denielle Lipscombe, Nes’eya Williams and Jess Hughes (when she recovers from knee reconstruction).
He couldn’t be happier to have accepted the job and to be preparing for his first season as a head coach.
“It’s exciting for starters to have this opportunity. There’s no question it is different being a head coach opposed to an assistant coach and you find out things like the recruiting side comes down to you,” Allen said.
“But just the overall preparation is something you put a lot more thought into when the buck stops with you.
“But it’s definitely been a really exciting move over to the Redbacks and the program they are trying to put together is very much about building the club culture to develop a program into the future.
“That’s exciting to now be part of to be honest and I’ve enjoyed that side of it. And we’ve got some quality kids coming through the program which makes it even more exciting.”
While there are significant changes to the playing squad at the Redbacks this season with Kayla Steindl, Makailah Dyer, Mikayla Pirini and Bianca Donovan, but he’s more than happy with the inclusions led by Mansfield and the young group he has emerging.
“It’s probably something more recently that I’ve thought about. Having the experience of being head coach with the WA under-20s the last few years has really opened my eyes to what a head coaching role entails,” he said.
“In WA the challenge of coaching at SBL level is one of the bigger challenges but from that experience this seemed like the next step to make and the timing seemed to be right for it to be made.
“Then I was fortunate enough that the Redbacks were happy enough to have me on board which is always nice. To be honest I’ve been involved in SBL more than 20 years when you look at my different roles.
“So this wasn’t necessarily something I had been planning to take the step and do but now it does feel like a natural progression with the time I’ve put into the sport.”
While the rapid improvement the Redbacks showed last year raises the expectations of what they can achieve this year and makes it an attractive proposition to build on that success, for Allen he sees no reason to draw on that because this is a totally new start in 2019 in so many ways.
“I think it’s a totally environment this year and a different starting point. Yes, there are some benefits to come from the capabilities the players within the group showed last year with what they achieved, but it’s a totally new start and development process that we are looking at,” Allen said.
“There are quite a number of younger players within the group this year and the coaching structure is different as well.
“Apart from some of the senior players who are still around who bring that experience and would have grown from last season, the actually dynamic of the club and how we play is likely to be quite different from last year.”
You can’t have such a long history at a club like Allen has with Willetton without always feeling some connection there, but Allen already feels at home as part of the Redbacks and being part of a club with such a strong vision of the culture they want to bring is something he couldn’t be happier to be part of.
“There’s certainly still some emotional ties and history there for me at Willetton. I played my juniors at Willetton and that was back in the dark ages,” Allen said.
“There definitely still is that emotional tie to Willetton that will always be hard to break but when I see the culture and direction that the Redbacks are heading in, it’s exciting to be part of. It wasn’t an easy decision to make to leave Willetton but it does feel like the right one at the time.
“It’s not so much the results they had last year, but the direction and commitment to build their culture as a whole club is what stood out to me.
“They have a clear vision for the future direction of the whole club with the board and CEO so what excited me about getting involved was the whole direction the club was heading more than just the women’s program.
“Obviously they were successful last year by being one game from a Grand Final which is a positive but very much it’s the overall culture and direction that the club is building towards that is most exciting to be part of.”