As Round Four was about to get underway, former Hawthorn coach and icon of the game John Kennedy, Sr passed away at the age of 91. Just a few weeks earlier, he was elevated to legend status in the AFL Hall of Fame (see story at https://www.afana.com/news/2020/06/05/afl-hall-fame-2020)
The Hawthorn club issued a statement saying he passed away peacefully in his sleep on the morning of June 25th. The club statement also said in part, "... John was a man of extraordinary humility and strong family values. He is not only woven into every thread of Hawthorn Football Club’s fabric, but he underpins the values that our family club is built upon."
President Jeff Kennett said, " ... John will live on within Hawthorn ... forever. He set and lived the standards that are the culture of the ... Club ... John’s impact ... will be eternal and his legacy will always live on ... So much of what Hawthorn is today, is because of the foundations John laid ... His booming voice will forever echo in the corridors ... and the legend of the man in the brown overcoat, with a heart of gold, will be passed down from generation to generation ... ".
North Melbourne chairman Ben Buckley, who played under Kennedy after the coaching great was lured out of retirement by the Kangaroos, echoed Kennett's sentiments, "He was not only a coach to many of us, but a terrific mentor and teacher ... ".
Statement from AFLPA CEO Paul Marsh, "... John was a giant figure in our game, someone who inspired many and achieved great success along the way as a player, winning the Hawks’ best and fairest award on four occasions, and as a three-time premiership coach. The connection he enjoyed with his players as a coach ... was one of legend, and his contribution to the game was immense. John has been one of our game’s most recognizable figures and the legacy he and his family have left will continue to live on throughout the league and the game more broadly."
Many others who played under Kennedy remembered him. When Peter Knights joined the club, he had to commute a long way to and from Melbourne. Kennedy convinced him and his parents it would benefit his career if he moved to Melbourne to finish high school. He did and it did, "He was very high up in the education department ... on the teachers' tribunal, " ... I was so intimidated about doing that but ... it was the best move I could have made."
Former Hawk captain and ruckman, Don Scott, speaking SEN Radio, said that Kennedy had been a significant influence on his life, "A lot of his philosophies I applied to life, whether ... right or wrong, I certainly applied it to business ... he really hardened my attitude to football ... ".
Publisher and Hawthorn fan Geoff Slattery, in an edition of the AFL Record from some years ago, said, “He was important even to those who didn’t hear him. Whenever he spoke, anywhere, everyone listened. Everyone.”
He was practically an ascetic in his insistence on team, stringency, humility and grace. He was exacting. 1971 premiership player Ray Wilson said, "He made us brave. I would rather be run through by the pack than face him at quarter time.”
Ruckman Alan Martello, who played in two premierships under Kennedy, recalled a day at Waverley when the Hawks were playing Essendon. They were losing at half time. Martello recalled that Kennedy almost broke his fist punching a whiteboard. According to Martello, a "pin-drop silence" followed, but it turned the tide and the Hawks went on to win the match.
Known as dour and taciturn, when the Hawks won their first premiership under his coaching, his enjoyment of the win lasted only that evening. Then Chief Justice of Victoria Sir Henry Winneke was present to enjoy the day with his own son John, who had played that day. Kennedy told the elder Winneke, "There will be other premierships, John, but only one first premiership." It was during that Grand Final that Kennedy boomed out a directive which would become part of footy folklore, "Do, don't think, don't hope, do!"
He took some of his coaching philosophy from one of his own coaches. Part of that was a belief that all injuries above the neckline "didn't count". His was a selfless, team-first philosophy and it satisfied him that in his time as Hawthorn coach, no player won a Brownlow. Another influence came from fellow legendary coach Norm Smith. When Kennedy, as Hawthorn captain, led the Hawks to a finals win over Melbourne in 1957, he noted and admired how Smith balanced discipline with license for his players. The pair later struck up a rapport.
Despite his hard-nosed attitude of how the game should be played, he was an excellent orator, also being a school teacher by profession. According to one of his former players and a premiership coach himself David Parkin, "His exceptional oratory ability, where players in particular, saw at its best the way in which the Queen’s English can be used to project the philosophy of Marx, the beauty of Shakespeare, and the passion of Churchill." Parkin also said of Kennedy, “Outside of my parents, John is the most important person in my life.”
After his elevation to Legend in the Hall of Fame, he was interviewed by the AFL's Patrick Keane. During that interview, he remarked, “I hope I’ve learned to be tolerant. Winning and losing is both part of football, and it’s part of life, so you must be tolerant of what you have and what is in front of you.”
Kennedy remained close to Hawthorn after stepping down as coach and was chairman of selectors when Allan Jeans was appointed coach in 1981. During Kennedy's stint as coach of North Melbourne, one young player there was an impressionable rover by the name of Alastair Clarkson. Clarkson has now coached Hawthorn to the most premierships in the club's history, but he like everyone at the club, walks in Kennedy's shadow, not just figuratively, but literally. A statue of Kennedy overlooks the oval at Waverley Park, Hawthorn's training and administration base, and the coaches and players pass it every time they step on the ground.
For all his hardness as a player and coach, there was a softer side to him as evidenced in the speech he gave at a testimonial Hawthorn gave him in 1977. Hawthorn put on the event the year after he stepped down as their coach. The AFL website reprinted that speech and it can be viewed here:
Sources: afl.com.au, theage.com.au, Megan Croucher, Hawthorn Media Release, Adam Baldwin, AFLPA Media Release
Article last changed on Monday, September 12, 2022 - 5:15 PM EDT