GEELONG chief executive Brian Cook has stunningly revealed the Cats' concerns around Mark Thompson's lifestyle began even before the first of two premierships secured under his watch.
In an extraordinarily open and wide-ranging interview on AFL.com.au podcast In The Game with Damian Barrett, Cook reflected on Thompson's 11-year stint as Cats coach, revealing that the club became so worried about its coach that it attempted intervention and needed to directly ask if he was using drugs.
Cook also revealed that:
- In his 30 years as a CEO of two of football's most successful clubs, West Coast and Geelong, football would have been a better industry had it embraced "values-based leadership" and not made "compromises for talented people";
- Several clubs had approached him to be their CEO, but his stint at the Cats, to whom he is contracted until the end of 2020, would be his last; and
- His key to success was to "develop a culture before (premiership) cups … you can't sustain anything without culture".
Thompson broke a contract and walked out on the Cats at the end of the 2010 season, to join Essendon.
Asked if Thompson's issues could be traced back to the period between his first (2007) and second (2009) premierships as Cats coach, Cook took the timeframe for concern back even further.
"Yeah, probably – I think that probably is the time where he was most vulnerable, behaviourally," Cook said on In The Game.
"It is a difficult issue. When you identify employees who aren't performing at their best for a period of time, it could be anything.
"Early intervention is really important, and we tried to do that at the end of '06, start of '07.
"The thing about intervention is that you need peoples' support, not just the person you are dealing with in terms of their behaviour, but people around them because the matter could get worse if it is so erratic.
"I think we got to a stage where we were really open with Mark, but it was difficult to get a response. But he just doesn't give.
"He was the type of guy who was self-made and he didn't necessarily want to rely on other people, or give them his problems, and he didn't want to talk about any of the issues he had, so it was difficult, it was really difficult.
"We were trying to create an open and genuine environment for Mark and whatever it was, but we never got to that stage."
Mark Thompson, pictured with Paul Chapman, led the Cats to flags in 2007 and 2009. Picture: AFL Photos
Cook, who spoke to In the Game on the eve of the 2019 season, said the manner in which he and the Cats dealt with the early signs of Thompson's fall remained the source of intense reflection.
"It was a tough time, it really was, and what you do in the end was what the people are saying to you," Cook said.
"On reflection, was I naive? Yeah, maybe there was a part of that. But by and large, they were good people we were dealing with, including Mark Thompson, and I believed they were telling me the truth.
"We asked Mark questions and he would tell us what we believed to be the truth."
Asked if he personally queried Thompson about his alleged drug use, Cook said: "I did, yes. But I don't want to go into that. Sorry mate. I think that is a personal thing. People were talking about it and the question had to be asked."
For the full Cook interview, listen to this week's episode.
0:36 – Longevity
5:35 – From the Chief to the Chairman?
6:28 – How the AFL could improve its values
9:35 – When I got to Geelong, it was about 'worshipping' talent
10:05 – Essendon saga
11:09 – A rare insight into Mark Thompson
18:32 – Playing days
20:39 – 'You've done 100 metres in the last hour'
23:41 – Frank Costa
24:37 – The influence of Scarlett and Mooney on major decisions
26:51 – Yes, yes, yes and yes: A long list of clubs that wanted Cook
29:40 – 'I was too direct' applying for the AFL CEO position
33:48 – More depth on Essendon saga
35:32 – West Coast culture and Ben Cousins