James Hird's 23-year career with Essendon is over, chairman Paul Little flags his departure too

James Hird. Photo: Getty/ Quinn Rooney

James Hird has left Essendon, stepping down as coach of the club he joined as a 17-year-old rookie in 1990.

His resignation, which he gave to the club’s board on Monday night, is a tragic end to the career of an AFL great. The 1996 Brownlow medallist, who played 253 games for the Bombers, and was lauded as one of the 20 greatest players of all time, retiring in 2007 with two premierships to his name, became coach in 2011.

He departs with 41 wins, a draw and 42 losses as coach, having missed 2014 after being suspended for bringing the game into disrepute over the still-unresolved 2012 supplements program. The club has lost 10 of its last 11 games and was beaten by Adelaide by 112 points on the weekend.

At a media conference on Tuesday afternoon, Hird said he needed to leave to give the club clear air in the wake of the ongoing drugs scandal.

“It was the board’s opinion that the football club would never be free of the ASADA scandals while Paul and I were here,” Hird said.

He pleaded for everyone to give the players the chance to perform without distraction, adding “I hope that by standing down, the AFL industry will finally give them the chance to play football”.

“They’re human beings. Whatever has happened is not their fault.”

Hird said he wanted to move on and give the side space because “they’ve been through enough”, but appeared to have mixed feelings about going.

“My hesitation in leaving this club at this time is because I believe the players still need strong guidance and care, which I hope to continue to provide from a distance,” he said

“It’s extremely hard for me to move on. I have a lot of love for the players and supporters. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to deliver.”

Hird said that while 2015 was “disappointing” in terms of the club’s performance, “personally, I believe, some of you may disagree, that I have been a good coach”.

The former coach said that they had shown some promise this season by when WADA decided to appeal the AFL Tribunal’s ruling that 34 past and current Essendon players had no case to answer, it damaged the club.

“I think the WADA appeal drove us back into the mire,” he said.

The Dons champion said that one day he hopes to tell the story about the 2012 supplements scandal from his perspective, but said it won’t happen until it’s “a day that doesn’t encumber the Essendon football club”.

Assistant coach Matthew Egan will be the interim coach for the remaining three games of the season.

Essendon chairman Paul Little released the following statement:

Today, the Club has announced that James Hird has stood down as senior coach.

This is the culmination of many weeks of open discussion between the Club and James, which ultimately led to James tendering his resignation last night.

Our on field performances in 2015 have clearly been unacceptable. As the season progressed, it has become increasingly apparent to the Board that change was needed.

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’ expectations.

On behalf of the Board of the Essendon Football Club, I wish to thank James 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.

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.

The man who combined immense talent with fierce competitiveness; loyalty; endurance and a sense of fair play.

A player and a captain who was admired by all; loved by Bomber fans;

James Hird’s place in the history of our club should never be questioned.

I have spent in excess of 2 years working closely with James. We didn’t agree on everything, but we always agreed that the players were our number 1 priority.

In relation to his departure, the Board and James have agreed on a negotiated settlement. The terms of this shall remain confidential.

A process for selecting a new coach will be confirmed over coming days, and we will provide details on that process in due course.

In the meantime, Matthew Egan will coach the team for the remainder of the season in a caretaker capacity. Matthew has been an assistant coach at the Club for the last four years, he knows the players intimately and will be supported by the other coaches.

The internal football department review, being conducted by CEO Xavier Campbell, will be finalised in the next month.

The review is broad ranging and has focussed on:
– Structure
– Reporting and Evaluation
– Roles and Responsibilities
– List Management and Recruiting
– And external benchmarking

Finally, I thought it also timely to discuss my own position as Chairman in light of today’s announcement.

When I inherited the role of Chairman, I resolved to see the ASADA investigation through to its conclusion and allow the next Chairman of Essendon clear air to lead this Club into its next great era.

As such I plan to stay on as Chairman of the EFC until I can steer the Club and its players through the final stage of the WADA appeal, which is likely to conclude during 2016.

As discussed, we are close to completing the review of our football operations, which now will include the search for a new senior coach.

Overseeing these changes, together with the orderly transition to a new Chairman, will be my key focus during this period.

Paul Little AO

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