Lamont leaves legacy of passion

John Lamont always seemed destined to be a football coach.

The seed was planted at an early age for the departing Werribee senior coach, who made his start as a player under the tutelage of his father in the under-nines at the Violet Town Football Club in Victoria’s northeast, where his grandparents were also life members.

Lamont fondly recalls childhood weekends spent immersed in football, a central feature of which was observing the quarter- and three-quarter time huddles of the senior “Towners” outfit or those of the nearby Benalla side, where he would later go on to play senior football.

“I’ve got great memories of going in, getting close to the players, and getting a feel for what they were going to do in the last quarter, and it probably just ingrained in me as a kid that I wanted to do it one day,” says Lamont.

“I just remember coaches speaking with passion and excitement and enthusiasm, and it was something that as a youngster I was always keen to do.”

That passion and excitement seems to have had a profound influence on Lamont’s own coaching style.

Through his five years at the helm of Werribee, he has earned a reputation as the VFL’s most inspired and inspiring orator, a man whose huddle addresses have become the stuff of legend.

Lamont’s emotive pre-match and on-field oratories – which have seen him channel Sean Connery in "The Untouchables", reference the back catalogue of British heavy metal heavyweights Iron Maiden, and even draw on a bizarre camel-bite analogy – seemingly put him at odds with a contemporary establishment that favours a more clinical approach to the art of coaching.

But if such theatrical flair has run the risk of being dismissed as a throwback to a bygone era, Lamont is unfazed.

For one thing, his has been a natural response to a given situation rather than a rehearsed act; for another, while he has always believed players need to bring their own internal motivation to any contest, he is unwavering in his belief in the power of a well-timed rev-up.

“I’m an enthusiastic person, and I played under a few enthusiastic coaches, and it rubs off,” he says.

“It’s contagious. It’s not something I think too much about.

“Before games, I can really rev ’em up, and I think the players enjoy that, but I’m hopeful they’re bringing their own motivation and not relying on me to motivate them.

“I’m trying to make them feel good about what they’re doing. If they’re feeling good about what they’re doing, they’re going to be more inclined to really weigh in and have a real crack for their teammates.

“The reason why they play, that’s all up to them. My role pre-game and during the week is to bring that motivation to the surface and make sure they’re bringing their personality to the game and giving the best effort they possibly can.”

Refreshingly, Lamont has also seemed to take on a sense of responsibility for promoting one of the biggest strengths of the VFL: the ability for spectators to listen in to the huddle within an elite football environment.

As much as for instructing or rousing his players, his words have been a means of engaging supporters and drawing them into the inner workings of their club in the same way he had been drawn in as a youngster.

“I’ve never seen the sense of coaches whispering,” he says with bemusement.

“People go out at three-quarter time to listen to the coach. I’ve always had a sense of that, so it’s just part of how I do it.

“People are coming out to have a listen to what the coach is saying to the players. They’re following the players, they’re supporting the players, they want to get a feel for the game plan and what we’re trying to do, where we’re at, and the lineup of the team.

“That’s why they’ve come out: to have a listen. It shouldn’t be in secrecy or anything like that.”

Lamont’s tenure at Werribee hasn’t been his first significant stint spent coaching within an elite football environment.

Prior to taking the top job at Avalon Airport Oval in 2014, he had spent five and four years respectively as senior coach of the Oakleigh Chargers and Eastern Ranges TAC Cup programs before a seven-year period as a development coach with North Melbourne.

But Lamont’s connection to Werribee runs much deeper than his five years in charge.

His status as a member of the club’s sole top-flight premiership team makes him and Donald McDonald – his captain-coach during the 1993 triumph – the only premiership players to coach the club.

Equally significantly, his time with North Melbourne – during which Werribee and North Ballarat shared a split alignment with the Kangaroos – had him keeping a close eye on proceedings at Avalon Airport Oval, a role that ultimately saw him spend three years working closely with predecessors Paul Satterley and Scott West both at training and on Werribee game days.

Through it all, Lamont has built a strong bond with Werribee and its people, something he says has made his decision to move on a difficult one.

“It’s certainly been really emotional for me at times,” he says.

“We’re coming up to two weeks since our last game, and you miss seeing those players talking. There’s always an element of that in the off-season anyway, but I certainly feel a level of sadness.

“Some of those guys who I’ve been with for two, three, four, or five years, we’ve been on a real journey, not only with their football but also their personal stuff.

“Part of my role is to help them navigate through, and with that comes close working relationships, so when we see them coming to an end, there’s a bit of disappointment.”

Still, Lamont is determined not to see the club he has given close to a decade to in various capacities get bogged down in sentiment, particularly after what he believes has been a highly encouraging first year of its return to being a standalone VFL entity.

“I really want Werribee to do well, and I’m sure the boys will dust themselves off and pick up the pieces with the new coach,” he says.

“There’s going to be an element of that start-again factor, but hopefully that core group of players sticks together.

“I reckon we’ve had a really exciting start as an independent club, so there’s plenty to build on.”

Lamont’s inclusive language in discussing Werribee’s forward prospects seems to highlight his depth of feeling for the club he leaves behind.

Despite preparing to hand over the reins to a soon-to-be appointed successor, he speaks with a sense of ownership and as though he still has a stake in its future.

“Werribee is my footy home, really,” he offers as explanation.

“I’ve coached for five years and been in the box the previous three years, played for a couple, and played in a premiership, so there’s a really strong element of that.

“That’s why I’m so incredibly grateful that the Werribee board and people like [CEO] Mark Penaluna and [football operations manager] Stu Balloch have given me the opportunity to coach the club. It’s been fantastic.”

If the outpouring of well wishes from the Werribee faithful in recent weeks is anything to go by, they likewise feel a sense of ownership over their departing coach.

Perhaps, then, they can take heart in his musings on what the future holds.

Lamont is yet to lock down any firm plans for next year beyond spending time with his family, but if his initial speculation is anything to go by, he may yet pop up from time to time at Avalon Airport Oval in 2019.

“I really hope that I’ll be able to get along to games,” he says.

“I’ve got a little bit of an idea that maybe I’d like to do a little bit of work with the past players, concentrating on the years that I coached, particularly for those North Melbourne guys.”

“Jamie Taylor has done a great job on the board in the past-player space, so maybe I can help out a bit there.”

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