James Hird is still Essendon coach … for now

Date: October 3, 2014 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

The football world still wait s to learn what exactly will be James Hird’s fate.

Following a special board meeting at the Essendon Football Club’s Tullamarine headquarters this morning Hird emerged saying he was still the coach.

A short time later chairman Paul Little saying, “James Hird is the current coach of the Essendon footy club. I think the Essendon fans would rather have deliberation around this rather than a quick knee-jerk reaction”.

If social media is anything to go by we are starting to get the impression that Bomber fans simply want this all over and done with.

At this stage Little says the board will reconvene early next week to discuss the matter further.

So it is steady as she goes at present for a club that struggling to stay afloat.

The sticking point is no doubt Hird’s move today to have his legal counsel lodge an appeal to the Federal Court over the verdict delivered by Justice John Middleton last month that firmly validated ASADA’s investigation into the club’s radical conditioning program in 2011-12.

Last night was an intriguing one for the club and its fans.

Chairman Paul Little told the Essendon faithful at its best and fairest awards last night – an event that Hird did not attend – that, “We are of the strong belief that if there is no appeal, the show cause process will recommence immediately and both ASADA and the AFL will undertake to move with as much expedition as possible. It is now time to accept the Federal Court’s decision and move on.”

The mood in the room at the clubs awards night did not bode well for Hird with neither Little nor stand-in coach Mark Thompson mentioning his name at all during their addresses.

Thompson was feted by the audience with chants of “Bomber, Bomber, Bomber” ahead of a protracted, and at times rambling, 17-minute speech.

During his monologue he stated that “You don’t want to backwards in this world” – clearly alluding to the fact that if Hird was retained as senior coach he was not keen on going back to his previous position as his chief assistant.

Yesterday morning also saw another AFL coach axed with Gold Coast sacking Guy McKenna despite him having a year to run on his contract.

That started a beating of the drums in AFL circles about Thompson perhaps heading north to take over at the Suns.

It was expected by many that the hastily convened board meeting this morning would once and for all seal Hird’s fate but it has transpired that a definitive answer is yet to be reached.

If Hird is sacked next week it would seem totally predicated on his decision to continue on his legal crusade against ASADA and not, on face value, a recognition that his role in the scandal at the club made his position untenable for had that been the case the club could have cut him adrift a long time ago.

So, in essence, the board would remove Hird not by virtue of his role in what an internal review stated was a “disturbing picture of a pharmacologically experimental environment never adequately controlled or documented within the club”, but because he failed to say, like the club, enough is enough.

But what of Thompson going from caretaker to full-time head coach should the axe fall on Hird?

Little says it is time for the club to move forward.

However, is it truly doing that by appointing Thompson, a man who was fined $30,000 by the AFL for his role in the club’s doping scandal, to the top job?

It was actually Thompson who recommended that Essendon employ high-performance boss Dean Robinson who in turn introduced controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank – the man at the centre of the doping investigations in the AFL and NRL – to the club.

Whilst the buck finally stopped with Hird as head coach with regard to the practices his football department adopted, Thompson was also a key in the whole decision making process.

As it currently stands the majority of key players during the time the club operated its spurious conditioning program – chairman David Evans, CEO Ian Robson, football manager Danny Corcoran, Hird, Robinson and Dank – have all moved on for various reasons.

The only two that remain are Thompson and long-time club doctor Bruce Reid.

Throughout the past 20 months James Hird has failed to truly take responsibility for the plight that the club still finds itself in.

So many of his utterances have been about how he feels sorry for the players yet in many ways he has simply prolonged their agony by pursuing action through the court system.

With respect to what transpired at the Bombers in 2011-12 the buck stopped with Hird.

In giving evidence to the Federal Court last month he said that he disagreed with the past two club chairmen’s handling of the saga, stating that he did not believe the club should have self-reported its concerns over its supplements program and also said that some of the facts in the internal review conducted by Ziggy Switkowski “weren’t accurate”.

He continues to fight but it many ways it appears it is more about him and his reputation than the good of the players and the club.

As a player, Hird ranked with the best – two premierships (one as captain), Brownlow and Norm Smith medals, five club best and fairest awards, five All-Australian teams and a member of the AFL Hall of Fame after a 253-game career.

In 2002 – five years before Hird retired – Essendon named its top-25 players of all-time.

Hird was ranked number three behind Dick Reynolds and John Coleman.

For all he achieved on the field for the Bombers his legacy has been tarnished immeasurably by his actions during the darkest period in the club’s history.

It is always said that the club is bigger than the individual.

For the past 20 months James Hird has in many ways failed to live by that creed.

It remains to be seen whether or not he withdraws his legal appeal.

That may well be the issue that he has been left to ponder over the weekend.

Surely, it he fails to do so the club will in an untenable position.

The board’s desire to move forward – a position supported now by the player group – cannot happen if Hird continues to involve himself in a protracted legal stoush to clear his name.

So, we sit and await the latest instalment in this Blue Hills-like soap opera.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 2 October 2014