GEELONG is targeting Western Bulldogs assistant Ash Hansen as part of its new-look coaching panel for next season after locking in favourite son James Kelly on Monday. 

Kelly returns to the Cats where he won three flags as a player before moving to Essendon to finish his career and enjoying a brief stint in the coaches' box. understands Kelly wasn't initially on the radar of the Cats' football department, however things shifted last week under the support of chief executive Steve Hocking. 

While his role hasn't been finalised, it's expected Kelly will lead the defenders next season in the position vacated by Matthew Scarlett as one of three majors coaching changes. 

Scarlett has informed the Cats he wants to step away from football in 2022, following forwards coach Corey Enright (St Kilda) and midfield coach Matthew Knights (West Coast) out the door. 

James Kelly looking on during a match between Essendon and Melbourne at Metricon Stadium in 2020. Picture: Getty Images

It will the biggest coaching transformation at the Cats in more than a decade under senior coach Chris Scott who remains contracted for 2022. 

The Cats' assistants were last year moved from traditional contracts to rolling employee agreements off the back of the COVID-19 pandemic and cut on football spending. 

Kelly retired from the AFL after not being offered a new deal by the Cats at the end of 2015. He was then added as a top-up player at Essendon through the club's supplements saga and played 40 games from 2016-2017.  

The 38-year-old spent 2018 and 2019 as a performance coach at Tullamarine working with the club's youngsters before stepping up to backline coach in 2020. He relinquished that role midway through the season to coach-in-waiting Ben Rutten and took on responsibilities as stoppages coach. 

James Kelly is chaired off by Joel Selwood and Dyson Heppell after his 300th game on May 13, 2017. Picture: AFL Photos

Kelly was set to remain in that role in 2021 but stepped away from the Bombers ahead of the season citing a desire to spend more time with family in Geelong. 

"I'm excited to come back to the club, to a place I love and be able to contribute as a member of the coaching staff," Kelly said. 

"It is a club that means a lot to me, and I have always kept my eye across what's been happening. This is a great opportunity and I want to positively influence and impact the club and help us achieve success."

The Cats are open to existing coaching members Shane O'Bree (VFL coach), Shaun Grigg (development) and Nigel Lappin (ball movement/development) taking on a line coaching position into next season but have also set their sights on Hansen, among others. 

Ash Hansen talking to Western Bulldogs players during the round seven clash with Richmond at the MCG on April 30, 2021. Picture: Michael Willson

The 2006 West Coast premiership forward has spent the last nine seasons at the Dogs and coached Footscray's VFL team to the premiership in 2016. 

He led the Dogs' forward line this season (ranked No.2 in the home and away season) to the Grand Final loss to Melbourne. 

The Cats' interest comes as the Dogs prepare to lose senior assistant coach Steven King to Gold Coast to work under Stuart Dew.