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Thanks, but no thanks: Why appointing James Hird would be too big a gamble for Bombers

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Nothing, it seems, is a simple exercise for the Essendon Football Club. Even as it attempts in good faith to put a troubled recent past behind it and begin a new era.

There's a new president in Dave Barham. A new chief executive will soon be appointed. There will be half a new board of directors. An external review will pinpoint the problems and what needs to be changed.

But it's the search for a new coach and James Hird's desire to be that coach which isn't just the elephant in the room, but an entire ... umm ... herd of them.

As soon as it was officially confirmed on Wednesday that Hird had been interviewed as a contender for the job, both the football media frenzy and stark division of opinion on his suitability for the role were entirely predictable. Of course, that's just a taste of what would ensue on an on-going basis if he did land it.

I'm going to show my hand early here. And this view is in no way personal. I like James, respect him and yes, think in some ways he was dealt a pretty poor hand both by certain individuals and circumstance during the supplements scandal. But I don't think Hird should get the job. For a number of reasons.

Whether it's his doing or not, the circus around Hird's every football move is fact. More emotional Essendon people like the idea of the club effectively giving an "up yours" to those who will never forgive Hird or the Bombers.

But that also means unnecessarily making the club once again public enemy No.1 perhaps even with its AFL masters. It was easier for Collingwood to pride itself on being hated back in the days of the VFL. It's more problematic now for clubs needing some largesse in terms of fixturing, stadium deals, sponsorship, even friendly PR.

Hird's mere name and standing as one of the club's greatest handful of players raises its own set of problems for a club desperate to break free from the anachronistic old networks of influence which have coursed through its veins. And no, that's not his fault, either, but it's still an issue.

The large and eternally passionate army of Essendon supporters further inflame the noise. Those baying for the "romance" of Hird's return from exile as it were, are pointing to his status as statistically the club's most successful coach since Kevin Sheedy.

That in itself, says a lot about the insularity of the club. Indeed, it's a bit like hailing Jamaica's finest bobsled team in "Cool Runnings". Why would you not compare a coaching record with those from across the competition? This, for me, is Hird's key problem as a candidate.

His win-loss strike rate across four seasons in charge was 49%. Yes, those waters are clearly muddied by the impact of the saga on club, coach and players, but it's hardly Chris Scott 70% territory.

Far more importantly, though, Hird hasn't coached on a weekly basis for seven years now. With the exception of Brad Scott, who still seems an unlikely appointee given his important and satisfying AFL job, his rivals for the job have.

Let's be honest. In those same circumstances, were Hird's name Smith, it wouldn't even be a contest.

Sure, Hird had his teams at times play with passion and a feisty "backs-to-the-wall" mentality Essendon has sadly lacked pretty much ever since. But we're talking nearly 10 years ago. Even coaches who have been out the caper one or two years speak frequently of just how quickly the landscape changes.

Is that the sort of gamble the Bombers really need to be taking just for the chance they may recapture a similar zeitgeist to that present in those extraordinary and never-to-be-repeated circumstances of a decade ago?

The danger for Hird's rivals for the job, however, is that their narratives are almost the antithesis of his. Indeed, Adem Yze, Brendon Lade and Jaymie Graham are arguably three of the lowest-profile contenders for an AFL senior coaching post we've seen.

Yze, particularly, is extremely highly-rated in the coaching fraternity, and has now been involved with four AFL premierships from the coaches box, three with Hawthorn and last year with Melbourne. But he has never been interested in a media profile.

Nor should he have to be. And you'd certainly expect Essendon's coach selection panel comprising the likes of Robert Walls, Jordan Lewis, Simone McKinnis and Dorothy Hisgrove to be able to focus on the important credentials for the job. But a bit of a "leg up" via some public support certainly wouldn't hurt.

You'd like to think Essendon might be informed at least to an extent by Collingwood's experiences this time a year ago.

Craig McRae, despite playing in three premierships with Brisbane, was hardly your typical Magpie coaching candidate. He and the Pies' amazing revival this year from 17th to a potential Grand Final spot is more evidence it's all about the sausage not the sizzle. But then McRae wasn't running against a Collingwood legend the likes of, say, Bob Rose for the job.

Some of those Essendon people opposed to Hird as coach believe he's been selfish in putting his hand up for the role, knowing the sort of circus which would result. If he really loved the club, wouldn't he do everything to help it avoid that?

Personally, I think that's a little harsh. His family has been synonymous with the club for much of its history. The love for it runs deep and is genuine. As does his passionate belief he can make a difference. Perhaps he really can, too, in some capacity other than coach.

But this is perhaps Essendon's one and only chance to remake itself into a contemporary and cutting edge organization on and off the field, one which embraces ideas and people from the entire football eco-system, not just the claustrophobic environment of a club which hasn't really been anything like a leader in the field for more than 20 years.

It needs everything in place to do so. The right people. The right attitude. And as few distractions as possible. It cannot afford to appoint somebody as coach whose personal story will for some always be of more interest than that of the team he is coaching, depriving it of oxygen and the encouragement it needs to grow and flourish.

It may take a while to flourish, too, at a place where patience has long been in short supply. But surely that's a more worthwhile narrative in which to invest than the short-term sugar hit of one individual's professional resurrection, no matter how romantic it seems to the headline writers.

*You can read more of Rohan Connolly's work at FOOTYOLOGY