FOUR weeks ago, as Essendon's season sank further into despair, James Hird met for a one-on-one dinner with Bombers chief executive Xavier Campbell.
They were there to discuss the club's football review, but Hird had something to ask Campbell: did he think Essendon, its players and supporters, would ever be treated fairly or be able to move on with him as coach?
Campbell, into his second year as the club's chief, considered the question and took it up with chairman Paul Little. A week later, Hird met with Campbell and Little to discuss the issue more.
At Hird's pre-game press conference last Friday morning before the club's clash with Adelaide, he was asked the same question he himself asked Campbell weeks earlier.
His response was self-assured, saying a cloud would hang over the club until WADA's appeal was heard, no matter who the coach is. "Until that [cloud] gets removed, then we're all just waiting," Hird said at the time.
But Hird left the club an hour later, and that afternoon met with Little at the club chairman's office.
"Paul said it was the board's opinion the football club would never be truly free of the ASADA issue whilst I was coach and he was chairman," Hird said at Tuesday's resignation press conference. "On Monday night, I agreed to tender my resignation to the Essendon Football Club, which was accepted by the board."
Hird spoke to the players at 1pm on Tuesday, a payout with the club's hierarchy was agreed, and so Essendon moves into its next phase.
Assistant coach Matthew Egan will take over the role on a caretaker capacity in the final three weeks of the season, and after that the club's internal review will be finalised.
More change is expected. There is a view the club may have 'overcorrected' in the structure of its football department: in aiming to have the most process-driven structure in the wake of its supplements program, there are perhaps too many lines of communication now.
Little, also, appears in the latter stages of his chairmanship having confirmed he would leave when the ASADA and WADA situation has been resolved.
His focus will be on a smooth transition to the next person for the role, with former Federal Labor MP, and Essendon director Lindsay Tanner one figure linked to the position.
Hird said his decision to stand down, in line with the board's views, was for the betterment of the club. Daily doorstop interviews will slow, at least until a verdict comes down from the Court of Arbitration for Sport after WADA's appeal.
"We want to be a football club again. We don’t want to be the centre of media speculation, we don't want to be a place where there's cameras out the front of our club every day, we don't want to be on every TV show every second day, we don't want to be every second article in the paper," Hird said.
"We want to be a football club that's talked about football. By leaving, if that could allow our football club to go back to [being] a football club, then it was in their best interests that I leave."
For Hird, his next step will be out of the spotlight. Although there was no sense of relief or a lifted burden after the announcement, he said he is looking forward to spending time with his family and enjoying how "wonderful" life can really be.
He doesn't expect to have any involvement in football again, but said he will at some stage tell his side of the story about the goings-on at Essendon in 2012. Tuesday was not that day, but he did not see himself as the final fall guy for the damage caused by the supplements program.
"I don't feel like a scapegoat. I feel like an Essendon person who wants this club to be successful. I want these players to be able to play. I want the supporters to come to the game and love coming to the game again. I want us to win. I want us to be a great club again," he said.
"I don't want us to be the centre of attraction when it comes to drugs in sport."
Essendon has three games left this season – against Gold Coast this weekend, then Richmond and Collingwood.
The Bombers still feel they have the nucleus of a strong list, but as Hird said on Tuesday, they might be another two years away from contending after costly draft penalties and player defections.
They are challenges for the next man in charge. Almost as soon as Hird walked out of his final press conference as Essendon coach, CrownBet released a market on who would replace him on a permanent basis, with Simon Lloyd, Mark Harvey, Stuart Dew, Nathan Bassett and Blake Caracella among the favourites.
It is hard to think there has been a bigger coaching job to take on.