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The bigger issues at the Demons

Rohan Connolly and Michael Gleeson believe Melbourne's disappointing performance on the weekend highlights bigger issues at the club.

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The decision to sack Melbourne chief executive Cameron Schwab was made late on Saturday night after the club's worst ever loss on the MCG. At an emergency board meeting, directors agreed that Schwab had to be the fall guy, although the suggestion then was that his marching orders would not come immediately.

On Sunday, president Don McLardy called for unity and stability and seemed to stress that no heads would roll. As recently as Monday, he wrote to club members and supporters and promised there would be no radical changes.

Cameron Schwab leaves the press conference after announcing his resignation.

Cameron Schwab leaves the press conference after announcing his resignation. Photo: Justin McManus

Meanwhile, director Peter Spargo arrived at the club, also on Monday, and tellingly spent four hours there. Within 24 hours, Spargo, like every director bombarded with text messages and telephone calls, would be appointed interim chief executive.

On Tuesday, while shell-shocked coach Mark Neeld, who surely remains in a perilous position, and his assistant coaches and players headed to Sorrento for an overnight bonding and soul-searching exercise, McLardy called Schwab and organised the meeting that would send the CEO packing.

McLardy would not say at Tuesday afternoon's slightly shambolic press conference just why Schwab had been sacked, repeating what he had told the man himself: that he had become a divisive figure among members and supporters and he had to go for the club to move forward.

In truth, Schwab had been a divisive CEO. He divided the board and divided the football department. An external investigation into club processes, completed in early 2011, was critical of Schwab and his management style.

By the time the Demons met Geelong in July that year, senior players told then president Jim Stynes and McLardy that Schwab and football department boss Chris Connolly were a destructive influence.

Then, those same players floundered in historic proportions at Simonds Stadium and Stynes, with the support of Garry Lyon and Guy Jalland, chose to save Schwab. Coach Dean Bailey was sacked instead.

With hindsight it seems an extraordinary indictment on Schwab that Lyon was called in to oversee a partial rebuild of the football department.

Together, after attempting to lure Alastair Clarkson - offering the out-of-contract Hawthorn coach a $5 million, five-year deal - they chose Neeld to coach, with the experienced former Adelaide coach Neil Craig alongside him.

The end result has been a football department still fragmented, with Todd Viney's role - described as general manager of player development and strategy - ill-defined given that he has strongly differed with Neeld over the so-called ''premiership model'' that the Demons put in place as they planned to rebuild their own rebuild.

Schwab signed Viney to a five-year deal without consulting the senior coaches in early 2011 and already several at the club have become concerned at his potential conflict, given the recruitment of Viney's talented son Jack. The club now has thrown its lot behind Craig, who has been a strong public face since Saturday night but, like Neeld, has no answers.

The highly paid director of sports performance is mentioned every time a club director mentions Neeld, as if to reassure themselves that the new way forward is the right one.

Sacking Schwab was not the wrong decision, but it was messy and farcical in its handling. It came as quickly as it did because the AFL wanted him out, and those board members who had wanted him gone almost two years ago lost patience after Saturday night.

McLardy denied he had gone back on his word by insisting the Schwab departure had been part of discussions for months. And yet the club re-signed him last season to a three-year deal.

Certainly the AFL tanking investigation further hurt him, given he was CEO at the time. Schwab would probably add that AFL chief Andrew Demetriou publicly backed him in his battle with the media at the time over some of those farcical on-field losses.

But then Schwab knows the industry better than to hold public scores. He took his termination with good grace.

The 49-year-old from a remarkable football pedigree began his AFL career as a cadet administrator at Melbourne in the early 1980s, was thrust into the general manager's job at Richmond when he was far too young and then returned to Melbourne - where Joe Gutnick first sacked him from that club in 2000. Schwab's most successful performance was at Fremantle, where he worked for seven years before returning to the Demons.

He knows the industry, he knows the rules. Surely he would have not been surprised to take McLardy's call on Tuesday morning. A football administrator has only so many lives and Schwab had well and truly used his.