Western Bulldogs president Kylie Watson-Wheeler in 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

KYLIE Watson-Wheeler came within hours of being anointed the AFL's chief executive officer during a whirlwind weekend of meetings in Adelaide in mid-April last year.

With the backing of key powerbrokers, Watson-Wheeler had effectively come from nowhere to nearly land football's highest executive management post, ultimately falling short of filling the Gillon McLachlan-held post, which eventually went to Andrew Dillon.

Watson-Wheeler clearly knows how to run big businesses and to negotiate ways through office politics, egos and traditions.


Hers is a professional skillset the envy of many in football. She is managing director of the Australian arm of The Walt Disney Company, and sits on the boards of other big organisations, including the Australian Ballet. And now, as president of the Western Bulldogs, she knows she is going to need to draw on every facet of that business nous in the next two months to fix many current problems in order to present a clear future.

While Watson-Wheeler and her Bulldogs board, after negotiations that concluded 10 days before Christmas in 2022, have Luke Beveridge on contract as coach through to the end of 2025, their union has entered a holding pattern.

Watson-Wheeler and the Bulldogs declined to speak to AFL.com.au for this article, but in a carefully worded assessment of the club during a semi-regular commitment on ABC radio on Monday, she said it was "too early in the season for us to panic or for us to make rash decisions".

Luke Beveridge speaks to his players during the Western Bulldogs' clash with Fremantle in round seven, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Despite the contract, there is too much unknown early in the 2024 season for Beveridge to be guaranteed access to 2025. His own mindset is part of that unknown. The mood of the playing group, which last Sunday failed against lowly Hawthorn to finish round eight with a 3-5 scoreline, is another problematic facet. The now-burning desire of more than a few players on that list to contemplate a future elsewhere is part of the mix. The lack of a strong voice, apart from Beveridge, publicly presenting the club's position on all matters, also.

At the time of writing, the board was not considering anything other than backing him in to fulfill his contract. But Beveridge and the Bulldogs have been around the block enough times to know that situations can change dramatically quickly, and that at some stage change itself may present as best option for individual and club.

While those who preside in senior positions at the Bulldogs have always maintained their coach doesn't possess any more power than his counterparts at other clubs, in my mind his control has been at times overwhelming. People at the club have regularly walked on eggshells around him, whether they have realised it or not, and have often made decisions based on what they had pre-empted his reactions to be.


In many ways, Beveridge's power and control was well earned, and understandable. Walking into not just a broken team but fractured club at the end of 2014, days after the captain Ryan Griffen had walked out, which had led to the exit of coach Brendan McCartney, Beveridge immediately transformed operations.

He took the Dogs to the finals in 2015, narrowly losing an elimination final to Adelaide in a contest he still to this day believes was adversely impacted by an apparent information exchange between the Talia brothers (Michael was a non-playing listed Bulldog at the time, Daniel a senior player for the Crows).

The next year, 2016, he orchestrated one of the greatest ever VFL/AFL premiership successes, taking the club from seventh after the home-and-away season all the way to the flag, just the second in the Bulldogs' history.

His legacy, rightly, and power was unquestioned, and effectively remained that way until the 2022 season, when the board deliberated at length before extending him to 2025.

Luke Beveridge leaves the dais after the Western Bulldogs' win over Sydney in the 2016 Grand Final. Picture: AFL Photos

I was fully supportive of that extension, as at the end of 2021, his seventh year in charge, he had twice taken the club to a Grand Final.

Maybe Beveridge hasn't personally recovered from conceding 16 of the final 17 goals in the 2021 Grand Final loss to Melbourne, and the Bulldogs under his watch have never finished a home-and-away season higher than fifth, nor have they won a final outside of the 2016 and 2021 seasons.

The quality of the Bulldogs' list is regularly debated. In Marcus Bontempelli, Beveridge has had access to one of the all-time AFL greats. Tom Liberatore has long been established as a Bulldogs great. There is elite talent in Aaron Naughton, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, Bailey Smith (injured), Tim English and Liam Jones.

Former top-line players Jack Macrae, Caleb Daniel and Bailey Dale have clearly deteriorated in opportunity and form. Rory Lobb, recruited at the end of 2022 largely on the urging of Beveridge, has been playing in the VFL this year. Very few people in football expect Bailey Smith, out for the season, to be a Dog in 2025.

Club CEO Ameet Bains clearly felt it was an underperforming list when he publicly said late last year that he believed the club had players which should progress to a top four finish.

The Bulldogs attempted to address some of the unknown around Beveridge late last year when they commissioned football's Mr Fixit, Peter Jackson, formerly a CEO at two AFL clubs and confidant to many in football, to conduct an external review of operations.

Depending on who you speak to and want to believe, at least 12 and up to 40 players were interviewed as part of Jackson's research, which resulted in a shuffling of responsibilities around the coach. Again depending on who you speak to and want to believe, Beveridge's position was either not for Jackson to scrutinise, or emerged from the Jackson review strongly intact.

Relationships around Beveridge have been strained for some time. After the Jackson review, Matthew Egan was catapulted into a position where Beveridge now reports to him, and he in turn reports to Chris Grant, effectively providing a working buffer between the coach and Grant, who clashed over the dismissal of long-serving assistant coach Rohan Smith at the end of 2023.

Rohan Smith speaks to Bulldogs players in round 22, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Watson-Wheeler and the Bulldogs board have not deviated in their support of Beveridge. Aware that they may have let him down with support staff in recent seasons, the board sought, after the Jackson review, to bolster that part of operations. The Bulldogs board will also never lose sight nor appreciation of him achieving in 2016 something only one other person, Charlie Sutton in 1954, had managed in the club's history.

The board has also watched other clubs find themselves in disarray for extended periods after choosing to part with good coaches, is choosing to look beyond the 3-5 scoreline to this point of 2024 and even see merit in a couple of losses, particularly in pushing Geelong to four points in round four and even Sunday's seven-point loss to Hawthorn, where nothing seemed to go right.

Beveridge is not wired to quit, and no one is sensing that in his thinking. But if the losses keep coming in a business which is rightly judged on match day outcomes, and after 10 seasons in charge, he would deep down know that a contract for 2025 is security only.

There are unknowns everywhere for Watson-Wheeler, her board and the coach just eight games after a review which was designed to create certainty.

X: @barrettdamian