by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chcago
In late May, a Melbourne board meeting led to media speculation that Coach Mark Neeld was going be sacked. That rumor was quashed with Neeld himself saying it was simply a routine meeting. However, at a meeting on June 14, the board decided to tell Neeld his services were no longer required. Recently appointed CEO Peter Jackson held off on delivering the news to Neeld until the Monday following the completion of Round 12 due to concerns that the information would be leaked to the media before Neeld could be told.
He stressed Neeld was not being made a scapegoat for the club's deep-seated on and off field problems but confirmed the Demons' performances were to blame. He also confirmed the second half of Neeld's three-year contract would be paid out in full to the tune of approximately $600,000.
At a media conference, Jackson said it was not just the fact the Demons had won only one game for the season but also the scale of the losses the club had suffered. Neeld, present at the press conference, said that when he received the call from Jackson early in the morning, he had an idea of what was coming. He said he had no regrets about the decisions he had taken, saying hard decisions had to be made. He also expressed disappointment but also said he had to take responsibility for his part in the club's problems. He agreed with outgoing president Don McLardy and CEO Peter Jackson that the entire club was taking responsibility for their woes.
Jackson also told the media that there would be a complete restructure of all aspects of the club which would include the football department led by a new position and a general manager of football operations who would report to him. Current football manager Josh Mahoney will act in that position and, Jackson confirmed, will be a candidate as part of an "industry search for a candidate for that role". The club's search for a new coach will also begin immediately. In the interim, assistant coach Neil Craig, who was senior coach of the Adelaide Crows, will be caretaker coach.
The complete restructure was part of a presentation the club made to the AFL in an effort to gain a financial package. Andrew Demetriou said the League would review the club's presentation and that any assistance provided by the AFL would be conditional on the club's restructure plans. He then tempered that by saying the AFL wanted to see the Demons survive as a successful and vibrant club.
Jackson also addressed the media speculation that a number of players might be considering moving to other clubs at the end of the season and said that one priority would be to re-sign key players to new contracts. "We need to convince them ... that this is a place they want to be for the next 10 years of their career." He also admitted that the club was an "impediment" on the competition, a view shared by Andrew Demetriou.
Jackson said, "When the wheels fell off at the beginning of the year so did the revenues ... At a football club where you've got very high fixed cost structures, being player wages and salary, when you lose revenue at the top it goes straight to the bottom line. We're not structured financially like a Collingwood or Essendon where we can withhold that sort of pressure. We are a smaller footy club ... under very severe financial strain ... so we had to go to the AFL to seek support. The compelling thing from their point and view and the rest of the industry is that we are a huge impediment ... in terms of opposition clubs playing us as their home game, our stakeholders, the MCC, broadcasters, everything ... We are an impediment and need to fix it."
As for Neeld, he said he would take a break to spend some time with his family but would love to stay within the industry. He also said he would have liked to see out his contract and did not rule out a return to a position somewhere within the League as he quipped, "I've still got a few mates around, someone might give me a job." When asked what went wrong, he said he did not know. During his tenure, the Demons won just five matches out of 28 games.
Neeld, appointed in 2011 as a first time senior coach, has endured on and off field dramas in 18 months that would stretch the patience and sanity of even the most seasoned coaches. A snapshot of his tenure follows.
July 29, 2011: Melbourne loses to Geelong by 186 points, the second biggest losing margin in VFL-AFL history.
July 31, 2011: Coach Dean Bailey sacked. CEO Cameron Schwab initially sacked but then reinstated.
September 11, 2011: No.1 draft pick Tom Scully leaves the Demons, signing a five-year deal with GWS.
September 17: After a long apprenticeship as a senior coach in country football and as an assistant with Collingwood, Neeld was named coach of Melbourne and immediately resigns his position with the Magpies on the eve of the Preliminary Final. Promises to make Melbourne the "hardest team to coach against". He assembles a new-look coaching team including Neil Craig as director of sports performance, David Misson as elite performance manager and Leigh Brown and Jade Rawlings as assistant coaches.
February: Neeld springs a major surprise by replacing veteran Brad Green as captain (overlooking experienced players such as Brent Moloney and Nathan Jones) with youngsters Jack Grimes and Jack Trengove, who had played 32 and 37 games for Melbourne respectively.
March: Still recovering from a wrist injury, mercurial full-forward Liam Jurrah is granted permission to return to Alice Springs to deal with family issues. Shortly afterward, he is charged following his involvement in a machete attack.
March 12, 2012: Melbourne president Jim Stynes dies after a long battle with cancer. Thousands of Melburnians farewelled the AFL icon at a state funeral.
March 27: Just days after the death of club legend and president Jim Stynes, Melbourne loses the opening match of the Neeld era by 41 points to the Brisbane Lions after entering the match as favorites. An emotional Neeld wore his heart on his sleeve after the match, saying: "Am I going to go down a similar road and continue to put blind faith in players? No way. Absolutely, no way".
April 3: Neeld is embroiled in a racism row after former St Kilda coach Grant Thomas writes in a column for Ninemsn that Neeld had interviewed his white players individually during the preseason but met the indigenous players as a group. Thomas later retracts the remark. AFL employee Jason Mifsud issues an apology to Neeld for "clearly inappropriate" comments about the club's management of indigenous players. Melbourne were furious at the allegation.
April 5, 2012: Demons dump sponsor EnergyWatch after co-owner Ben Polis posts a series of racist rants on Facebook.
April-May: The Demons lose their first nine games, lacking the fitness and the personnel to play Neeld's game plan with its emphasis on heavy contested football. After a 101 point loss to the Sydney Swans in Round Eight (the only match Jurrah would play for the year), Melbourne president Don McLardy was forced to defend Neeld's appointment and to maintain that he was the right man to coach Melbourne.
May 31, 2012: Melbourne is thumped by 41 points by the Brisbane Lions at the MCG.
June 2: Melbourne stuns Essendon for its first win of the year, 8.10 (58) to 6.16 (52) on a wet night at the MCG. The Bombers had lost just one game until then. Melbourne would win just three more games for the year against newcomers Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney.
July 1: Star recruit Mitch Clark is ruled out for the rest of the year because of stress fractures in his foot.
July 30: Former Melbourne, now Carlton, midfielder Brock McLean tells Fox Footy TV show "On the Couch" that the Demons tanked in 2009 in order to secure the first two selections at that year's NAB AFL Draft. Shortly afterwards, the AFL announces an investigation into his comments and this would provide a backdrop for the remainder of Melbourne's season and the entire 2013 preseason.
September 3, 2012: Liam Jurrah quits the Demons to return to South Australia and prepare for court charges over an alleged machete attack in Alice Springs. In March this year Jurrah was found not guilty of assault. He has since appeared in court in relation to another brawl. Ed. note: in this case Jurrah was found guilty and sentenced to a three month jail term.
October: 2011 Best and Fairest Brent Moloney departs the club through free agency for the Brisbane Lions, while defender Jared Rivers leaves for Geelong. Stefan Martin is traded to the Lions, Ricky Petterd is delisted and Brad Green retires. Chris Dawes joins from Collingwood, while David Rodan crosses from Port Adelaide as do Geelong pair Tom Gillies and Shannon Byrnes.
February: Chris Dawes hurts his leg in the NAB Cup and his debut for Melbourne is delayed until Round Seven.
February 19, 2013: The AFL hits Melbourne with a $500,000 fine following a probe into claims the Demons deliberately lost matches to gain early draft picks in 2009. Former football operations manager Chris Connolly is banned from football for 11 months and ex-coach Dean Bailey is suspended from coaching for 16 rounds for "actions prejudicial to interests of the AFL". Paradoxically the AFL says the club didn't tank and can't explain what tanking is. The AFL investigation centered on comments made in a Demons football department meeting run by football operations manager Chris Connolly allegedly reminding staff about the importance of the extra draft pick.
March 31: Melbourne again opens the season at the MCG against the lowly-ranked Port Adelaide gets rolled by 79 points. "We didn't see that coming," Neeld says afterward.
April 6: After a week in the spotlight, the Demons fare even worse the following round, thrashed by 148 points by Essendon, with fans clamoring to jeer the side from the ground after the game. It was Melbourne's heaviest ever defeat at the MCG. "There is no easy way out. That is clear," said a shell-shocked Neeld after the game.
No.1 draft pick Jack Watts was substituted out of the game then dropped the next week. After not playing at any level, he is recalled to the senior team for Round Four.
April 9, 2013: Cameron Schwab stands down after being asked to quit by president Don McLardy, two days after McLardy said it would be wrong to blame Schwab for the club's problems. "The unity of our club is absolutely vital and at the moment we have a divided supporter base. Cameron, for whatever reasons, fair or unfair, polarizes that," McLardy said.
April 18, 2013: Text messages emerge linking the Demons to controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank, the man at the center of Essendon's drug investigations.
April 19, 2013: Melbourne releases a statement admitting Dank was in contact with club doctor Dan Bates but denying any drugs breached WADA rules. A fuming AFL boss Andrew Demetriou says "there will be consequences" if the club is found to have lied to the League about Dank.
April 21: Melbourne wins its first game of the year, coming back from 19 points behind at three-quarter time to defeat GWS by 41 points after a 12 goal final quarter.
May: The losses keep mounting - some heavy, some not. But the 90 point belting by Fremantle – the club's 14th straight defeat in Perth – started the speculation over his future once again. Melbourne kicked just four goals for the game.
June: Melbourne's considerable shortcomings are exposed once again with respective 95 and 83 point defeats to power teams Hawthorn and Collingwood. Neeld remains coach after a presentation to the Melbourne board of directors.
June 14, 2013: Don McLardy stands down as chairman, citing business pressures. His resignation comes after the sacking of Schwab earlier in the season. McLardy took over as president during Jim Stynes' battle with cancer in February 2012. He endured 18 months of on-field and off-field failures, headed by the AFL tanking investigation. Poor crowd projections, payouts to key staff and revenue shortfalls have the Demons facing a $5 million black hole over the next two years.
June 17, 2013: Mark Neeld is sacked by the Demons.
DEMONS ON THE FIELD
2011: 8 wins, 13 losses, 1 draw, percentage 85.3. Position: 13th
2012: 4 wins, 18 losses, percentage 67.5. Position: 16th
2013: 1 win, 10 losses, percentage 49.8. Position: 17th
As usual, there has been plenty of media speculation regarding potential replacements for the job. Here is a rundown of those candidates, their responses or chances and media comments:
Neil Craig: has indicated that he would wait and see how things go over the remainder of the season before deciding if he wants the job full time. He's been there, done that with the Adelaide Crows. Craig said, "It's a tough job .... the headaches came back ... there will be 11 weeks to gauge that ... the key ... is .. the club needs to be really clear about the type of coach it is looking for ... that can take some time ... a lot of clubs don't necessarily do that well. They don't really know what they want ... Melbourne will take its time to decide .... that might be poles apart to myself." Craig, who said he not entertain another senior coaching role after Adelaide, said he felt a "responsibility" to the Melbourne Demons and said he had reflected back on whether or not he could have done more to help.
Paul Roos: started his career as a player at Fitzroy, is well entrenched in Sydney not only as a player and Premiership coach but also the inaugural head of the Swans junior academy. He has already said he does not have the "fire" to be a senior coach again but said he would be happy to talk to the club if they called.
John Worsfold, who is out of contract with the Eagles at the end of the year, has ruled himself out of the running.
Rodney Eade: currently an assistant with Collingwood after senior stints with Sydney and the Bulldogs, says he still has the fire to coach. Touted as one of the best tacticians in the game, he said he'd be happy to have a chat with the Demons.
Mark Williams: took Port Adelaide to their first Premiership and spent a year with GWS as an assistant to Kevin Sheedy. That relationship soured and he is currently working as development coach at Richmond.
Alastair Clarkson: Premiership coach at Hawthorn. He was offered a $1 million per year deal by the Demons a year before Neeld was offered the job. Clarkson's management has already said he is "not interested".
Kevin Sheedy: senior coach at GWS who will hand over the reins at the end of the season to assistant Leon Cameron, He is a legend in his own time with a record which speaks for itself. He was interviewed just ahead of the Dean Bailey appointment. The interview did not go well with the club and Sheedy parting on less than amicable terms.
Mark Thompson: another whose record speaks for itself while with Geelong. Controversially he walked away from the Cats citing burnout, but then landed at Essendon as an assistant. Marginally linked to the Essendon drug saga as the person who brought in high-performance manager Robinson. Another who has said he has no interest in the job.
Brett Ratten: a Carlton favorite son but sacked as senior coach at the end of 2012. Many believe he would still be with the Blues if former teammate and current president Steve Kernahan had had his way with the board. Currently an assistant coach at Hawthorn and had a stint with Melbourne as a midfield coach. Media speculation predicts he is unlikely for the job.
Gary Ayres: former Hawthorn Premiership player and senior coach with Geelong (Mark Thompson's predecessor) and Adelaide (Neil Craig's predecessor), currently senior coach of VFL team Port Melbourne. He steered Port Melbourne to the 2012 Premiership in a season after which the side did not lose a single game.
Alan Richardson: after his playing days were over with Collingwood, he embarked on a coaching career with stints in the Essendon District Football League and VFL team Coburg before landing an assistant role with the Western Bulldogs. After three seasons with the Dogs, he was Collingwood's development coach under Mick Malthouse for two years, then assistant at Essendon for another three years. He crossed to Carlton as an assistant in 2011, but left when Brett Ratten was axed. He is currently an assistant with Port Adelaide.
Scott Burns: had a fine career with Collingwood. Has been an assistant coach with West Coast since his retirement in 2008.
Source: theage.com.au., heraldsun.com.au, sen.com.au, AFL Record Season Guide, author notes
Article last changed on Friday, June 21, 2013 - 6:24 AM EDT