How Jack Gibson delivered Bennett to the Broncos
Jack Gibson gave many valuable gifts to rugby league but the greatest treasure he delivered to the Broncos was Wayne Bennett.
Bennett, with seven premierships to his credit to be the competition's most successful coach, last Friday night became the first to record 500 wins.
The 68-year-old is in his 25th year as Brisbane's coach, a job he took on at the end of 1987 at the recommendation of the most successful coach that preceded him.
Gibson and Bennett share much in common – long-term success, an ability to get the best out of players of all personalities and abilities, memorable one-liners, dry wit, a penchant for surrounding themselves with loyal lieutenants, a continual thirst for knowledge, and a fascination with the lessons to be learned from American football.
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The reasons why Gibson, on the back of just two meetings with Bennett, endorsed him as coach just prior to the birth of the Broncos still intrigue's the game’s longest-serving mentor.
"I admired Jack greatly, and loved what he did and how he did it," Bennett told NRL.com.
"I don’t know why Jack chose me, except that he had just said ‘you’ve got to get that boy, Bennett’."
The founding Broncos directors, then known as the Maranta Syndicate, knew the most important person they had to first appoint was the coach.
They were seeking a person who could not just coach a team with distinction, but for someone who could build a successful club from scratch that would stand the test of time and epitomise the values and aspirations they all held dear.
The four directors – Gary Balkin, Steve Williams, Paul "Porky" Morgan and Barry Maranta - had an impressive group of mentors on their hit-list including John Lang, Bob McCarthy and Ross Strudwick but a crucial decision loomed, one they could not afford to get wrong.
Who better to turn to for advice than a five-time premiership winner and the greatest coach alive?
"Talking to Jack Gibson was a way of getting someone from within rugby league to assess what coach we needed for a new franchise to be successful long-term," Maranta told NRL.com ahead of the Broncos' 30-year celebrations this weekend.
"There was a lot of competition and we needed to get the right bloke. If we weren't successful rugby league would have evaporated in Brisbane because rugby union was strong and Christopher Skase was funding the local Aussie Rules team.
"Jack knew how to build sustainable rugby league clubs and was the one guy that could think outside the square. He was also capable of understanding the esoteric side of running a club. He was a real innovator."
Several of the directors went to see Gibson, in his final year as Cronulla coach, and he recommended going after a 37-year-old Bennett, who was co-coaching Canberra with Don Furner.
Gibson told author Jack Galloway how he suggested the Brisbane directors buy out Bennett’s contract at the Raiders for the simple reason "he had shown in Canberra that he could get the job done, simple as that. He was the man they needed."
"Gibson thought Bennett was the guy who could not just coach, but get our franchise to a level where we could survive and make money out of it, pay bills and do all the things you need to when you own football teams," Maranta said.
"We needed someone who had a five-year vision and not a five-month vision. We gave him a five-year plan to get a premiership, and in 1992 we did."
The story of how the Broncos secured Bennett from the Raiders is well known but Gibson’s recommendation of Bennett struck a chord with Maranta in one key area. Gibson had been influenced by American football and Maranta wanted the Broncos to cast their eyes further than the NSWRL for inspiration.
In his autobiography Arthur Beetson said this of Gibson, his Roosters coach: "He had dipped deeply into American football, largely through his friendship with a leading figure over there, Dick Nolan, coach of the San Francisco 49ers, but also by adopting many of the winning philosophies of the most famous of all the coaches, Vince Lombardi.
"Lombardi was big on getting the team’s preparation right, and Jack certainly grabbed hold of his theory," Beetson wrote.
Gibson sensed a kindred spirit in Bennett, a man who he believed would move with the times.
“Jack had studied American franchises, as had I, and I loved the Denver Broncos," Maranta said.
“After we got the license I got a call from someone on drive-time radio and was asked whether we were going to copy Canterbury or St George. I said, ‘None of them. We are going to copy the Denver Broncos and what we’d seen in America because that was the university of world sport in the States'. They knew how to run sport, get bums on seats and get television contracts."
Bennett embraced that philosophy and visited the Denver Broncos on several occasions where he would absorb himself in the philosophies of head coach Dan Reeves.
Bennett first met Gibson in 1979 when Souths were playing Easts in a preliminary final of the Brisbane Rugby League. The club had flown Gibson up to lift the team ahead of the clash.
"Jack Astill was president of Souths juniors and his son was captain of our team. He asked if there was anything he could do for us to help get us to a grand final, because Souths hadn’t been in a grand final since 1963," Bennett recalled.
"I said, ‘Jack Gibson. It would be great if you could get him’… and he did.
"He spoke to the players and showed them a film on the value of preparation. I’d picked him up and was looking after him and he walked up beside me and said, ‘Hey coach, you’ll win tomorrow, but you’ll be in a fair bit of trouble the next week when the grand final is on because I won’t be here to help you’.
"We won the prelim, but got beaten 26-nil in the grand final."
In keeping with the "preparation" theme of Gibson's video, Broncos legend Steve Renouf says Bennett was preparing the Brisbane side to understand winning right from the start.
"We’d watch videos of old successful NFL teams on this show that was hosted by a bloke called Dick Butkus where he’d talk to the coach about the season where they won the Super Bowl,” Renouf told NRL.com.
"We’d sit there and listen to it and it was all positive. It was all around preparing to win and how to be winners. Wayne was showing us what success looked like. I imagine that was innovative. I don’t imagine any other coaches doing that and I remember Wayne was doing all that stuff right from my first year at Brisbane in '88”
Bennett met Gibson for a second time when he was at fund raising dinner ahead of Canberra's first clash with the Sharks in 1987, memorable for several reasons.
"I sat at the table with Jack and Ron Massey, and that is where I became great friends with Ron Massey," Bennett said.
"I loved Jack's line when this guy got up, as they will sometimes, and asked questions...and just rambled on for about five minutes. Jack was standing there and this guy said, 'what did you think of all that Mr Gibson?' and Jack said, 'I've got no more to add to that. You've just answered your own question'. It just blew me apart."
Bennett's liking for a quip hasn't diminished and neither has his habit of having "the right men" in his inner circle.
Gibson surrounded himself at the Roosters with intelligent football brains he could trust such as Massey, described by Beetson as "his shrewd football-wise offsider", who became a great friend of Bennett’s. Mick Souter, Gibson's physical conditioner at Easts, was another key figure on Gibson’s team.
Bennett had his own version of Massey at Brisbane, the legendary Bobby Bax who coached Brothers and Norths in Brisbane to a stunning nine titles. He also had Kelvin Giles, a trainer that worked the Broncos into a shape they had never been in before.
"Jack had great charisma and he knew how to tell a player how he wanted to play the game and like all the best coaches he had good people around him like Mick Souter and Ron Massey," Bennett said.
"Mick with the fitness side of things where he was an innovator and ahead of his time, and Ron Massey who was an outstanding bloke.
"We had Kelvin Giles and he was very innovative with the way we trained. He was the first guy to start introducing regular weights and was ahead of his time as well."
Renouf recalled just how influential Bennett's confidants were to his players as well as the coach.
"There is a misconception out there about Wayne. He wasn’t too proud to basically say his ideas weren’t all his own, and he had wonderful mentors around him who would speak to us and encourage us,” Renouf said.
"Bobby used to come and sit to me before a game and have a chat. He was a calming and settling influence. He was a lovely man and always had a smile on his face. I was a young lad from Murgon and I didn’t know who Bob Bax was but if Wayne brought him in I knew he was someone who deserved respect.
"Ron Massey would come and see us when we played in Sydney and he'd like to eat our buffet food, but he was the same as Bobby Bax. I used to love talking to him. He was another old head, and calming."
Renouf only now understands exactly how Bennett had prepared for the triumph of 1992, the first of Brisbane's six titles.
He was playing lower grades at the time before going on to become one of the game's great centres and forever remembered for his 1992 grand final try.
"The way Wayne built the 1992 team was purposely done. It was a five-year vision and I had no idea in 1988 that guys like me Alan Cann, John Plath and Andrew Gee were part of the plan," Renouf said.
"We believed we should have won in 1991. We thought it was ours, but we squandered it. In 1992 no one was going to stop us.
"We were the team to beat and we carried that confidence. It wasn’t arrogance. It was just a confidence within ourselves and I felt it again when I had lunch with Alf and Kevvie recently. We were ‘the men’ and we felt as though we could do anything. I can’t believe I am saying this, but it was easy."