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UPDATE: 'The time is now right': Woosha on Dons' succession plan

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ESSENDON will embark on an historic succession plan, with assistant Ben Rutten to take over as senior coach at the end of next year.

The Bombers have announced current coach John Worsfold will hand over the reins to Rutten at the end of next year, when his contract with the Bombers ends.

The plan would allow the Bombers to lock in their coaching set-up for the future and avoid potentially losing Rutten to a rival club as Fremantle and Adelaide search to fill their senior coaching vacancies.

Ben Rutten will take over as Dons coach at the end of 2020. Picture: AFL Photos

Rutten will start his senior coaching role on a three-year contract with the Bombers.

Worsfold has one year left to run on his contract with the Bombers, with the move to finish at the end of 2020 meaning he would have had five seasons in charge at the club in the post-drugs saga era.

"The time is now right for me to transition from the role of senior coach at Essendon and I go into the next 12 months really looking forward to helping the club move into its next phase,"  Worsfold said.

"Before I was appointed to the role in 2016, I was watching on from afar as to what was happening with the Essendon players.

"The game has personally given me so much enjoyment throughout my career, and I wanted to pay that back to these players who deserved it."

Worsfold has led the Bombers to the finals twice in his time at the helm, but both have resulted in heavy elimination final exits.

Rutten joined Essendon as an assistant for this year after being highly touted at Richmond, where he played a key role in the Tigers' breakthrough 2017 premiership.

He has been the Bombers' team defence and key position coach in 2019 but will be expected to take on more responsibilities next year before shouldering the senior role in 2021.

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"While I am excited by the opportunity ahead, going into next season having 'Woosh' here to steer the ship will be incredibly important and I'll certainly be utilising all opportunities to be exposed to various aspects of the role," Rutten said.

"I want to thank the board and the club for the opportunity to lead this football club down the track, but right now our immediate focus will be on ensuring we build on the strong foundations in this pre-season for a successful 2020 campaign."

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The 36-year-old played 229 games for Adelaide as a gun defender before retiring in 2014.

He will become Essendon's fourth coach permanent coach in eight years when he takes the post in 2021.

Essendon president Lindsay Tanner said discussions about the move had begun as far back as 2018, with Worsfold unsure of whether he wanted to stay in Melbourne beyond 2020 with his family based in Perth. 

"Throughout the year, and even as far back as last year, John and the club were having lengthy discussions about his future as senior coach beyond the end of his current contract. Without doubt, our focus has always been on best positioning the club to achieve success," he said.

"True to his nature, John was honest and upfront about the position he was in with his family located back in his hometown of Perth.

"He was uncertain about his future in Melbourne beyond 2020 and, naturally, has the club’s full support to put his family first.

"With ongoing discussions with John, we identified the opportunity to establish a succession plan, knowing we already had an outstanding internal candidate in Ben."