Finally, James Hird’s relationship with Essendon Football Club is over. The Bombers announced on Tuesday afternoon that the embattled coach had tendered his resignation after weeks of open discussions between the two parties.
Hird’s position had been under threat for some time but the final straw came in the wake of a 112-point shellacking by Adelaide at the weekend – and the increasingly vociferous calls for his head that inevitably accompanied it.
In an open letter posted on the club’s website, chairman Paul Little said Essendon’s performances in 2015 had “clearly been unacceptable”.
“As the season progressed, it has become increasingly apparent to the board that change was needed,” Little wrote. “To his credit, James has always accepted that he is ultimately accountable for the performance of the team.
“There have been a number of mitigating factors around our performance in 2015, including injuries to key players and the Asada/Wada process. However, across every measure, season 2015 has fallen well short of our expectations, and James’s expectations.”
Hird, whose record as Essendon coach read 41 wins, 43 losses and one draw, had a year to run on his current contract but will now leave the club with immediate effect after a negotiated settlement between the two parties.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday – with a number of emotional members of the Bombers playing staff in attendance – Hird said he hoped his resignation would benefit the players, and indicated he would remain in contact with them.
“On Friday afternoon at Paul Little’s office, Paul said it was the board’s opinion that the football club would never be truly free of the Asada issue while I was the coach and he was the chairman.
“I believe that I am a good coach. My record, even through troubled times, is something that I am proud of. My hesitation in leaving this football club at this time is that I will leave the players in a time they still need strong guidance and care which I hope to continue to provide from a distance.
“I’ve always cared deeply for them as people and tried to help them become the best players they can be. By making the decision to stand down I do hope the AFL industry will finally give the players the chance to play football.”
The hole left by Hird’s departure will be filled on an interim basis by assistant coach Matthew Egan, whose first task will be to take the Bombers to the Gold Coast to face the Suns on Saturday, before the search for a permanent replacement begins ahead of the 2016 campaign.
Hird’s exit brings to an end a troubled tenure at the club since the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (Asada) launched an investigation into the Bombers’ supplements program in 2012.
He was hit with a 12-month suspension for his role in the scandal, while 34 former and current players were implicated before being acquitted by the AFL’s doping tribunal. The World Anti-Doping Authority (Wada) has since appealed that decision.
And with the controversial sports scientist and former Essendon employee Stephen Dank, a central figure in the scandal, appealing the lifetime ban handed down to him in June, Hird departs with no imminent end to the saga in sight.
Hird, who led the Bombers to the finals in his first season in charge in 2011 but missed out the next year before taking them to seventh in 2013, was replaced by fellow former Essendon player Mark Thompson while he served his suspension in 2014.
Once able to, he returned to the helm but has only managed to guide the Bombers to 15th place on the ladder, with just five wins from 19 outings. Three games remain for them this season.
His miserable season was compounded when he suffered severe concussion in a bicycle accident on his way home from training last month, an incident which landed him in hospital and he admitted was “pretty scary”.
As a one-club player, Hird spent 16 years with the Bombers, making 253 appearances and scoring 343 goals. He won two premierships, in 1993 and as captain in 2000, the Brownlow medal in 1996, three Anzac medals, five club best and fairests and a Jim Stynes medal. After bring down the curtain on his glittering playing career in 2007, he was inducted to the AFL Hall of Fame.
Little paid tribute to the 42-year-old, and thanked him for being a “loyal and dedicated servant” of Essendon over the past 25 years.
“His love and passion for the club can never be questioned,” Little said. “James is also one of the most resilient men I have met. In the midst of unprecedented pressure James has stood tall, and been steadfast throughout in his belief of what was right.
“He will forever be remembered as a champion of this club. A legend. James Hird’s place in the history of our club should never be questioned.”
This article was written by Mike Hytner, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 18th August 2015 04.41 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010