GOLD Coast is set to explore a coaching market flush with untried and ambitious coaches but short on experienced alternatives as it searches for Rodney Eade's replacement.

The AFL's elite Level Four course contains a growing pool of senior coaching aspirants who make up the majority of candidates for the Suns' position.

Nineteen coaches have either completed or are in the process of completing the program, with John Barker (Carlton) and Stuart Dew (Sydney) the two standouts.

Barker ran second to Chris Fagan for the Brisbane Lions position, while Dew made a decision last year to remain with the Swans and not put up his hand for any coaching vacancies.

St Kilda assistant Adam Kingsley is another highly-rated coach among the Level Four group, with Matthew Nicks (Port Adelaide) and Simon Lloyd (Geelong) other graduates.

Still completing the course but likely to attract the interest of the Suns are Blake Caracella (Richmond), Brendon Lade (Port Adelaide) and Justin Longmuir (West Coast). 

Two wildcards are Peter Sumich, who left the AFL system last year but still has senior coaching ambitions, and Lions applicant Brett Montgomery, who stepped away from the elite level in 2017.

If the Suns decide they need an experienced coach this year, the pool is headed by Hawthorn assistant Brett Ratten, with Port Adelaide's Michael Voss another option. Geelong's Matthew Knights has also developed since he was Essendon coach from 2008-10.

The lead pack

1. John Barker (Carlton)
Ran second to Chris Fagan in the Brisbane Lions coaching race and is a standout among the Level Four graduates. Now in his 11th season as an assistant coach, Barker led Carlton as caretaker coach at the end of the 2015 season when Mick Malthouse was sacked. Started his apprenticeship under Ross Lyon at St Kilda in 2007-08 and joined the Hawks for two seasons in 2009.

John Barker is one of the favourites for the Suns job. Picture: AFL Photos

2. Brett Ratten (Hawthorn)
The standout candidate among those who have already had a stint in the top job, Ratten has expressed his interest in a return to senior coaching. He has been a crucial cog in the Hawthorn machine under Alastair Clarkson and would no doubt be a more rounded coach that he was with Carlton between 2007-12.   

3. Stuart Dew (Sydney Swans)
The highly-rated Dew has ticked all the boxes as an assistant and is a key part of the Swans' success. He has now spent nine years learning his trade, starting as a development coach in 2009. An inaugural graduated of the AFL's Level Four program, he is a well-rounded candidate with a strong foundation to take on a senior job.

4. Adam Kingsley (St Kilda)
Named the AFL Coaches Association assistant coach of the year in 2015, Kingsley is regarded very highly by his peers. The Port Adelaide premiership player has been with St Kilda since 2011, starting as forwards coach and moving into the midfield. A strong communicator and analyst, he is another Level Four graduate marked as a future senior coach.

5. Dean Solomon (Gold Coast) 
Extremely popular with the Suns' players, and ambitious, Solomon has been building to a senior coaching career. Those close to the former Essendon hard man believe he is ready and has the right coaching tools to work with a young group. Will coach the Suns in the final three matches this season.

Other contenders

Jade Rawlings (Melbourne)
Has developed significantly with Melbourne in 2017 and shown a lot of the characteristics of a senior coach. Was caretaker at Richmond seven years ago, and developed an expansive resume since with the Brisbane Lions (2010-11) and Melbourne. Was a member of the second Level Four intake and has been important during the Demons; cultural rebuild.

Scott Burns (Collingwood)
After coming close to senior positions at Adelaide and Essendon, Burns did not apply for the Brisbane Lions position last year. He joined the Level Four course this year and is strong on midfield and stoppage strategy. Has been in charge of Collingwood's midfield since 2014. 

Watch list

David Teague (Adelaide)
Simon Lloyd (Geelong)
Matthew Nicks (Port Adelaide)
Justin Longmuir (West Coast)
Brendon Lade (Richmond)
Michael Voss (Port Adelaide)
Leigh Tudor (North Melbourne)
John Blakey (Sydney Swans)
Blake Caracella (Richmond)
Matthew Egan (Melbourne)
Matthew Knights (Geelong)