THE state of denial and complacency at West Coast is arguably worse than the results.
As the hundred-point losses continue, the latest a 171-point smashing by Sydney on Saturday, those running the club continue to do nothing other than make public statements which mean nothing.
Losses are now regularly "unacceptable", club bosses, including coach Adam Simpson and chairman Paul Fitzpatrick, tell us.
"One of the darkest days in the history of the football club," Fitzpatrick wrote to members on Sunday night. "The 171-point margin aside, what we produced on the field was not representative of what the West Coast Eagles has stood – and still stands – for."
Words. It is all this club seems to do these days. Aggressive actions once dictated its standing. Anything resembling mediocrity was formerly acted upon. For the past 40 matches, mediocrity has been not just tolerated but allowed to infiltrate operations.
The Eagles' state, as historically bleak as it has become, is almost certain to get worse. Evidenced in four 100-point losses coming in the past eight matches, there is no resolve. Current coaches and players are now clearly not capable, nor committed enough, of working their way through this unmitigated mess.
The loss to the Swans was 171 points, and it could have been 200. Officially, it was the fourth heaviest loss in VFL/AFL history. One can only fear what Brisbane will do to the Eagles in round 17 at the Gabba.
This was the weird wording in Fitzpatrick's Sunday statement: "We all take a degree of responsibility for where we sit currently and equally we are all committed to fighting our way through this situation." A "degree of responsibility"? How about assuming full responsibility? Again, just words.
Fitzpatrick blamed senior players, stating a need for them to "set a better example" for young players. Injuries have become a major problem for the Eagles, but that too, is ON the club.
Maybe they have got too cozy off field at the Eagles. Fitzpatrick refuses to call for the one thing that has been needed for maybe 12 months – a proper review of all operations, particularly list management. Big financial commitments over long periods of time to once-grand but now badly struggling players have suffocated operations. In no order, Jack Darling, Andrew Gaff, Nic Naitanui, Dom Sheed, Jeremy McGovern, Elliot Yeo, Luke Shuey and Shannon Hurn are all way beyond their best, and are still on stifling arrangements.
Then there's the Tim Kelly deal. Kelly may well win the 2023 Eagles' best-and-fairest. Someone has to. But the cost of him playing for West Coast, at least $900,000 this year, and more pertinently, the cost of getting him out of Geelong at the end of 2019, has hurt the club's ability to inject much needed high-end youth through national drafts, given two first round national draft selections were required in the transaction with the Cats.
I'm not one to frantically call for sackings of coaches and CEOs every time problems arise at footy clubs. But everyone has an end-date, and the future of Simpson, despite having a contract to the end of 2025, now needs to be properly and forensically analysed. This is his 10th season. That's a long time, particularly with the disastrous results of the past two years.
More than anyone in the Eagles' 37 seasons in the AFL, CEO Trevor Nisbett has been central to operations. He was head recruiter and footy operations boss before he took over as administration boss. Always, he has been an old-fashioned fixer, in every sense of the word. Again, I'm not saying he needs to exit, just that his role needs to be externally processed.
The West Coast Eagles could have once proudly mounted the case that they never tolerated mediocrity. Nisbett himself once never did.
Granted an AFL licence in 1987, the Eagles made the finals in just their second season, and had moved on two coaches, Ron Alexander and John Todd, after their first three years. They then ruthlessly wrenched Mick Malthouse out of Footscray, and saw him make the finals in each of the 10 seasons of his reign, which produced three Grand Final outcomes and two premierships.
West Coast refused to persevere beyond the 13th and 14th placed finishes in the two seasons with Ken Judge as coach, and won a third flag, in 2006, under its next coach, John Worsfold. The club opted to back-in Worsfold after 15th, 11th and 16th placed finishes in 2008-10, before replacing him with Simpson after the 2013 season. Simpson made a Grand Final in just his second season, and won one in his fifth year, 2018.
This current Eagles' demise seemingly came out of nowhere, but now 40 matches in the making, nothing other than words are being offered by the club to fix it.
After 19 rounds of the 2021 season, the club was two matches clear inside the top eight. It lost the last four matches to miss the finals, won just two in 2022 and only one this season. Two of the great modern AFL mysteries are the Eagles' defeat of Collingwood last year in Melbourne, and their win against GWS in round two this year.
Three of the four 100-point-plus losses in the past eight matches have come against teams struggling to find wins themselves in 2023.
Sydney was 15th on the ladder entering Saturday's match, and emerged 171 points clear. Hawthorn was actually last on the ladder after round nine, and mauled the Eagles by 116 points in round 10. Carlton's only win in a nine-match stretch between rounds five and 13 came against West Coast, by 108 points in round seven. Adelaide smashed it by 122 points in round 13.
Other losses this year have included margins of 63, 50, 70, 46, 40, 47, 63 and 41.
Football clubs don't lose matches by 171 points unless something is fundamentally very wrong. They don't lose four of eight matches by more than 100 points unless they are totally broken.
From a premiership in 2018 to an embarrassment in 2023.
Fitzpatrick clearly doesn't want to call for a meaningful review, so the West Australian Football Commission must. It owns the Eagles and Dockers AFL licences. A responsible owner of a broken organisation is obliged to do so.