Dan Cole was the Pirates inaugural Head Coach and a man who is not only held in the highest esteem within the Club but is widely respected throughout Gridiron NSW.
Here he speaks out in an interview for the Clubs 20th Anniversary in 2005 where he talks about the Pirates early days and his thoughts on football in general.
Coach Cole Speaks
West Sydney Gridiron – Why were the Pirates formed?
Coach Cole – The early years for the league were plagued with all sorts of internal politics, personal agendas and Boys Clubs in most teams. After a very frustrating first year in pads with the Fairfield Argonauts that saw half of the team boycott a playoff game which we obviously lost, a group of mostly new players came to me at the end of the game and asked where we were playing the next year. With this, it was clear to me that they wanted to play football, not politics, and these were the guys I should be looking after.
After that frustrating experience and armed with the enthusiasm of that group of players, Barry Phillips and I set off to establish a new team in the Liverpool district where most of those players came from. Based on those experiences of the first year, we clearly understood our charter to be a team that valued the personalities o the players and provided a quality environment where they would have an equal voice in how things were done.
I thought it was important to remember that the players were the ones who were paying fees and owning their equipment for football to be possible, so they needed to be respected. It was not about me, it was about them!
West Sydney Gridiron – What are your most memorable moments from your time with the Pirates?
Coach Cole – Probably too many moments to identify any one as being the most important.
Right up there at the top would have to be our most memorable and impressive win against highly favoured Sydney University in 1988 to win a playoff spot in our third year in the competition. We dominated that game from the opening kick-off an clearly established for the first time that the Pirates were competitive against anyone in the league and were to be taken seriously.
Not far behind that would be our playoff win against the Argonauts to make it into the our first grand final in 1995 (PSGL). We were clearly the underdogs in an exciting game that went all the way to the final seconds where we denied the Argonauts the winning touchdown as time expired. I was in my second season as Defensive Coordinator for a rebuilt Pirates squad. That was a fun year!
Any win against the Bondi Raiders shares top billing for memorable moments. They were our nemesis for so many season that once we started to win against them I think it proved a turning point in the character of the club. Most of the wins were close ones and my favourite amongst those was a last second 50 yard field goal by Damien Hitchens in 1998 for what was unfortunately to be my last game of the season before heading off for extended business travel in the USA.
Aside from memorable football events, my truly fondest memories of the Pirates were the players themselves and the bonds that were formed between them by football. I am proud to have able to contribute something to those friendships that I am confident will stand the test of time.
West Sydney Gridiron – Who were the toughest opponents?
Coach Cole – Everybody. There was something psychological about Bondi that made them seem hard to beat until it finally started to happen, but there were few teams that offered a guaranteed win. When you find yourself stepping up when you’re the underdog and the playing down to a team when you should be favoured to win, it proved the old NFL adage that on any given day, anybody can beat anybody.
West Sydney Gridiron – What impresses you about who and what the Pirates are today?
Coach Cole – Probably that the Pirates have truly established a club culture and standard that other teams would be struggling to compete with. From small points like quality of uniforms and presentation, to the discipline shown by new younger Pirates that I have met in recent years.
The coaching standard remains high and there is an obvious emphasis on doing it by the numbers at the highest possible standard. All the members of the club are to be be congratulated on what they have achieved. If any of this is part of what we started in the early years, then I am flattered that anyone thought it was important enough a point to carry on with.
Over the years there have been so many players come to the Pirates from other teams yet very few Pirates that I can recall leaving to join other teams. This speaks volumes for how the Pirates are seen by others. Also, many of those players have remained with the team beyond their retirement as players. I think there is a clear message in there.
John Pongrac and Wayne Haber were part of that early Argonauts team that resulted in the formation of the Pirates. They didn’t come over with the first group of players, but they showed up eventually and look where they are now, leading the team as coaches. Darrin Mitchell came over in 1989/90, became a valuable member of the team who today continues to coach as well as participating at a club executive level. Ian Taylor played only a few season but stayed to take over the coaching role to this day. That’s quite a commitment and I know only too well what a demanding and frustrating role coaching can be.
The Pirates have demonstrated stability over these part 20 years. I can’t say that’s true for all other teams, not to mention those teams who were here today and gone tomorrow.
West Sydney Gridiron – What would you say to someone wanting to start a new team in this league?
Coach Cole – Get your priorities right and make sure you are creating an environment the players will be proud to be a part of as this is really about the players, no-one else. If you can’t deliver the same standard as the Pirates have in recent years, don’t bother.
West Sydney Gridiron – How far do you think the Pirates and the league have come in recent years?
Coach Cole – Both have come a long, long way sonce those early efforts to kick-start American Football in Australia over 20 years ago.
Working with the NSW Wolfpack team at the 2005 National Championships, I was really impressed with the quality of the players and coaching staff from NSW. When I looked at the other state teams in the tournament, I didn’t see the same level of skill, organisation or commitment.
I also had the chance to meet and work with some of the newer Pirates in that team. I was very impressed with their skills and work ethic and had to ask myself why didn’t we have more guys like that in the old days. You can all be very proud of what you have there today in the Pirates and this is a credit to both the players and the club management. The strength of the club today and the quality of the players can only server to improve prospects for the team and club in the years to come.
Above all, I have sense of pride that the Pirates remain ahead of the other teams as one of the most conforming, best run and predictably competitive teams year in and year out. This is a direct credit to the staff for continually raising the car and not accepting second best.
West Sydney Gridiron – Any final comments?
Coach Cole – When we started this whole thing, so many years ago, we were just kicking around in the dirt having some fun. I never had any idea it would stand the test of time and become what football is today with so many talented athletes and dedicated coaches willing to unselfishly share so much with others.
When I look back on the last 20 years, the one thing for me that is bigger than all the meaningful brief football moments is the lasting friendships and common bond forged by football. There are guys out there from that very first team and every team in between that if you call them up today, they would have all the time in the world to talk with you or meet you. There are no guarantees that in 20 years time you will have the same job, live in the same neighbourhood or even have the same wife, but I will promise you in 20 years you will still have the friends you made in football, and that’s very special.
A wise football coach friend (George McComack) once said to me, that if you love football, it will love you back. Having been honoured to coach numerous NSW State Teams and to have been inducted into the Gridiron NSW Hall of Fame recently, I now know that to be true.