WHEN Essendon scheduled a press conference for yesterday afternoon, some had cheekily wondered whether it was to announce senior coach James Hird had been given another contract extension.
At the end of the 2013 season and despite him having just been banned by the AFL for 12 months, Hird was re-signed for a further two years, locking him into 2016.
Not this time.
Hird yesterday appeared in front of packed media scrum, not for the first time in the past two-and-a-half years, to deliver the news he was stepping down as Essendon senior coach, perhaps after a not-so gentle nudge.
It was a decision that had to be made for the best interests of his club - the one he supported as a child and the one he captained to the 2000 premiership - be it for his involvement in the controversial supplements program of 2012 or for the disastrous on-field results in 2015.
The straw that broke the camel's back was the 112-point loss at the hands of Adelaide on Saturday - the Bombers' second triple-figure defeat this season.
Hird follows other key figures, including chief executive Ian Robson, chairman David Evans and football operations manager Danny Corcoran out of the club since ASADA first launched an investigation into the possibility banned substances were injected into its players.
The long-running saga is set to finally come to a head in November when Essendon confronts WADA at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Current chairman Paul Little also announced he would step down after that hearing.
"It was the board's opinion that the football club would never be free of the ASADA scandals while Paul and I were here," a clearly emotional Hird said yesterday. "By making the decision to stand down I do hope the AFL industry will give the players the chance to play freely."
Plucked from the media to replace the sacked Matthew Knights in 2010, Hird is likely to be the last former player appointed senior coach of an AFL club without any previous coaching experience.
He leaves with a 48.8% winning strike rate, but most notably with just five wins this season.
"There have been a number of mitigating factors around our performance in 2015, including injuries to key players and the ASADA/WADA process," Little said. "However, across every measure, season 2015 has fallen well short of our expectations and James' expectations."
Assistant coach Matthew Egan will act as caretaker coach for the final three games, with Fremantle assistant Simon Lloyd and Essendon assistant Mark Harvey installed as favourites to take over long term.
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