A proposed move by the Melbourne Football Club board to swiftly remove Mark Neeld from the most miserable position in football and temporarily replace him with Neil Craig was derailed at Monday's lengthy board meeting by the Demons' new chief executive, Peter Jackson.
To sack Neeld now would cost the Demons an estimated $600,000 and the club does not have that amount at its disposal, although the prevailing view on Monday was that timing, and not the club's ailing bank balance, handed Neeld what can only be described as a reprieve. The board remains virtually united that Neeld must go but Monday's meeting saw support for the coach from Craig, who was clearly not pushing to step in. The reality is that Neeld's sacking is no longer a decision but a negotiation.
Jackson, who outlined his vision to redesign the club's dysfunctional football operation with a clear priority to appoint a new football operations boss, was also cautious about a move on the coach. But the football operations appointment - complete with AFL endorsement - should come within weeks and potentially as soon as next week after Monday's Queen's Birthday clash with Collingwood.
Under the pump: Mark Neeld drives away from the MCG. Photo: Joe Armao
And yet Neeld remains on tenterhooks in a position which can only be described as untenable. After yet another ritual belting on Sunday he spoke of the pressure on his recruiters to get it right at the end of 2013 when clearly he will not be in the job. He is no certainty to coach beyond Monday and president Don McLardy could not even guarantee that.
Monday's board meeting came one month after Jackson took over and the new CEO outlined to the board the radical restructure required to make the club - and not just the football department - functional and potentially successful. A request for special funding from the AFL will be formalised over the coming weeks and the AFL's money will not come without specific guarantees.
The statement released by McLardy was hardly an endorsement for Neeld. It read: ''Our on-field performances have not met expectations this year and everyone in the football department continues to face ongoing assessment in their roles as do those employed in other areas of the club. The club will make no further comment at this time, in relation to the senior coach position.'' In other words the board could not back the coach and he remains under review.
McLardy's decision to sack Cameron Schwab some eight months after recontracting him for three years proved costly and came as a result of the team's worst MCG loss - to Essendon. Like Dean Bailey's sacking it had been on the cards but knee-jerk. Reading the form, Neeld could still go any day now.
Jackson has repeatedly made it clear that the coach alone cannot shoulder the blame for the on-field shambles and needed some clear air to be adequately judged. But clear air is not something the Melbourne Football Club can afford any more than it cannot afford an immediate payout of $600,000.
Should financial relief come it will come from the AFL and the league is not in the business of paying out coaches. The AFL has within its power the potential to remove boards and Melbourne's must demonstrate it means to change.
Perhaps Jackson on Monday managed to persuade the board just how small a part of the problem is the coach. Neeld's reprieve ultimately appears symbolic as much as anything. And certainly short term.