Mark Neeld looks to be on his way out at Melbourne. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
The question is no longer if but when Mark Neeld's coaching career at Melbourne will be terminated, and the mood after Sunday's disastrous outing in Perth is that the axe should fall at Monday's board meeting.
If Neeld has been the architect of his own destruction then he is nowhere near solely responsible for this shambles, and a clear stumbling block for the club, which stands to lose close to $3 million in 2013, is that it simply cannot afford to pay out another contract.
Nor, according to more than one player manager and even some at the club, can it afford to keep him. Too many players have been turned over already at Melbourne and should the board wait until the end of the season, more will go.
Former Demons player Brent Moloney's negative assessment of his relationship with Neeld on Fox Footy resonated with some directors almost as loudly as Moloney's performance for the Brisbane Lions against his old side in round five. Neeld alienated too many older players from the start and the new, experienced fodder he fought to recruit for 2013 have scarcely made an impact.
If any directors were hoping the coach could hang on until the end of the season, those votes became even shakier after the Fremantle game. A caretaker coach will be appointed when the time comes and Neil Craig and Todd Viney - again - are front-runners, with Jade Rawlings an outside chance.
The AFL will deny playing any role in the drama about to unfold but head office is clearly pulling the strings. The AFL Commission holds the discretion to grant the club a priority pick at the end of the season and has placed chief executive Peter Jackson in Cameron Schwab's old role to clean up the mess.
The league will not directly fund any payout to Neeld, but surely the funding will come indirectly from the AFL. Jackson has already stated he needs to restructure the club to - at a minimum - put it on an even keel. That will require AFL money, and if Jackson has not put a figure yet to league boss Andrew Demetriou, then it will come soon.
Schwab was less than a year into a three-year contract, which had a six month payout clause. It is not known if Melbourne would have to settle with Neeld for the entirety of 2014.
The new CEO's priority is a football operations boss and that too will cost money for a club that was already facing a $1 million operational loss before it sacked Schwab; before it was fined $500,000 over tanking charges; and before it paid its legal fees, not to mention suffer onfield losses of historic proportions.
Our prediction is that Jackson is already negotiating with Demetriou, and it remains to be seen whether club president Don McLardy or any of his fellow board members will sit at the table when the official request for special funding takes place. They deserve a collective serve for the mess they have overseen and the poor decisions they have made.
Melbourne toyed in such a cavalier and irresponsible fashion with its players when it deliberately set out to gain a priority pick in 2009 and then sacked its coach after 17 rounds in 2011 as the club had an 8-9 win-loss ratio. What Neeld would give for that record come July.
Now the club appears to be setting back young football careers in another fashion. It must move again and it knows it. To stem the bleeding will cost money, but surely to create an environment that finally enhances careers and not destroys them will be a priority.
And no one should begrudge the AFL for funding the rebuild. Poor clubs do not hold the mortgage on irresponsibly cavalier administrations. Just ask Essendon.