Adam Simpson at West Coast photo day ahead of the 2024 AFL season. Picture: AFL Photos

REINVENTING himself as a coach and remaining relevant in the modern game are two themes that Adam Simpson explored late last year after back-to-back seasons that had challenged one of the premiership coach's long-lasting traits.

Across a combined 532 AFL games as a player and senior coach, Simpson had always entered matches believing his team could win. But that belief was finally compromised during the most testing periods of two West Coast seasons that have netted just five victories and included seven losses by more than 100 points.

The 47-year-old didn't know if he would be leading the Eagles in 2024, and if he was, it was clear that a youth-led rebuild would move into overdrive as the core of senior players and leaders who were central to the 2018 flag departed.

So when he was endorsed by the Eagles board to continue as coach and his attention turned to how he could evolve alongside his team's changing dynamics, Simpson drew up plans for a week-long personal development trip to the United States with a focus on learning more about educating young athletes.

"I hadn't been able to do it for a few years with the COVID years, but I had a good chance to do it this year. Having a look at more educators than coaches is what I went after," Simpson told

"How to best educate this generation and how to get the right drills in the right space and the right reviews. And how do we get the best out of our players in the classroom as much as the coaching element?

"I did catch up with a few coaches ... the longer-term ones that had longevity. How do they keep reinventing themselves or keep themselves relevant to the modern game? I did a fair bit of that."

Amongst a packed seven-day schedule that included visits to professional sporting clubs, Simpson met with Gregg Ritchie, the 60-year-old head coach of the George Washington University baseball team.

Gregg Ritchie, coach of the George Washington University baseball team. Picture: GW Sports

Ritchie had been in charge of the Colonials since 2013, taking over the same year that Simpson did at the Eagles, and is the college team's second winningest coach in its history. With his experience as an educator of college-age athletes, Ritchie shaped as the perfect fit for Simpson as he explored the ideas of longevity and reinvention.

"I went into his environment for not even half a day and had a good chat to him about his values and what he stands for," Simpson said. "That was interesting and coaching obviously transcends every sport. The values he had were very similar to what I had, so I connected with him."

While evolving as a coach and learning more about the best way to teach young players was a focus of Simpson's trip, he is not placing his own longevity at the front of his mind going into this season.

He entered last year hoping to be the man to lead West Coast through its rebuild, but understanding that might not eventuate. Asked if his perspective had changed after a pressure-packed year, he said: "Not at all. My longevity is not something I'm particularly focused on.

"I've been here a while, so no matter what happens, I want to set us up. Whether I'm part of that, I'd love to be, or if down the track it's not the case, that's OK. We've just got to get this right."

Simpson doesn't shy away from the challenges of the past two seasons and offers no excuses for the performances that have led to fierce external pressure on both the club and himself.

Asked what had been the most challenging aspect, he said simply being competitive week to week had taken a toll on the club as much as the players.

"Rocking up thinking you can win every game is something I've always done. But there were some times in the last few years where I've thought, 'This is going to be really tough today'," he said.

While the challenging seasons have taught him even more about resilience, the pressure to perform in the AFL is something he learned to handle a long time ago as a 306-game midfielder with North Melbourne who experienced both bottom-four finishes and premiership success.

"I've been in this industry since 1994 and you've just got to deal with it. No one's making me do the job," he said. "There was a bit of attention the last few years, but it hasn't really stopped me.

"I just get home and I'm OK. I walk through the door and my kids are fine, my wife's healthy, the kids are healthy, they're not reading everything, and we're just trying to live our lives. Then when you walk out the door and get to the club, you've got to deal with trying to be a good leader.

"How you deal with failure is a real challenge when you're not getting it done and you're letting people down. That's been a real challenge."

Adam Simpson walks from the field after West Coast's loss to Sydney in round 15, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

After surviving a period of uncertainty at the end of last season, Simpson was able to dive into the off-season and address the bigger questions West Coast was facing as a club. Knowing where they were placed and how to get their rebuild right was central to the planning for this year.

The club went to the draft and selected Harley Reid with its first pick No.1 since 1996, with the young star joined by Archer Reid (pick No.30), Clay Hall (No.38), Harvey Johnston (No.49) and rookies Coen Livingstone and Loch Rawlinson. Free agent Matt Flynn, 26, is a ready-made ruckman, while trade target Tyler Brockman, 21, joins the young crew.

"That piece I think we've worked out as a club and we've been to the draft the last two years. We knew some sort of rebuild was on the cards, but it probably just went to a level that's pretty deep," Simpson said.

"It feels like a list that is starting to grow together and build together, as opposed to last year, where I think we were thinking, 'Let's get (Shannon) Hurn back running, let's get 'Nic Nat' (Nic Naitanui) up, let's get Luke Shuey going, let's get the band back together and complement it with some kids'.

Adam Simpson and Luke Shuey during West Coast's loss to Fremantle in round 22, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"Now it's legitimately some youth coming through, combined with some senior players who we really need to get right to have some impact.

"We weren't delusional in terms of what we needed to do last year, but when you've got that many senior players and coming off the years we'd had before that, we really wanted to get them right.

"This year there's a younger list to look at and more growth opportunities for those guys. But there's senior guys to help grow them as well."

The changing of the guard hasn't been restricted to the playing list, either. Among several off-field changes, West Coast premiership player and former Adelaide coach Don Pyke has recently started as chief executive, replacing the long-serving Trevor Nisbett, and Mathew Inness is the club's new high-performance manager.

The players will be led on-field by co-captains Oscar Allen, 24, and Liam Duggan, 27, who have both been at the Eagles during successful times and can remain for the next winning era. The extent of the changes makes 2024 feel like the start of a new era.

"There's a sense of enthusiasm around the place, that's for sure, and that's no disrespect to the guys that have left, because some of them have been tremendous servants of the footy club who have seen a lot of success," Simpson said.

"It's a new era, I suppose, and what does that look like from a whole footy club point of view, that's the next step. We really want to bring our members along with the journey. We want to open up a little bit and take them on the ride.

"That all starts now with how we go about it and what we do next. We're still working through that, but we've got some ideas."

Adam Simpson at the West Coast photo day in January 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Where once Simpson's team would enter every season aiming to qualify for finals as quickly as possible, and then reset to qualify as high as it could, the goals for 2024 feel more like laying the foundations of a building.

If the Eagles can meet them, however, they're "baseline" goals that should earn back some trust and put the club on the right path to build further in 2025 and 2026.

"We've got to get our attitude right, we've got to play with spirit, and we need to get the basics of the game right before we can take the next step," Simpson said.

"We're not the only team to hit the bottom of the ladder and work your way back. It's just how quickly can we do it.

"We had each other's backs internally [last year], we really tried to protect the players as best we could, and then we've got to take accountability and accept it wasn't good enough and we need to get better.

"That's part of the resilience piece, to go through that together and then hopefully we can rise together."