West Coast coach John Worsfold has been one of the most pivotal figures in the Eagles' history. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
In the end, John Worsfold's departure as West Coast coach wasn't a massive surprise. If the Eagles were far and away the most disappointing team of the 2013 AFL season, their coach didn't exactly set the world on fire, either.
There were times this season when Worsfold seemed almost like he hoped the club he had served with such distinction as both player and coach would make a difficult decision for him, appearing on occasion out of ideas and, for that matter, motivation.
But a dozen seasons in charge of the one club in the modern game is a long stint. With the end of the Worsfold tenure, Hawthorn's Alastair Clarkson now assumes the mantle as the AFL's longest-serving coach at nine years, and even he had his former chairman in Jeff Kennett calling for his head after just one game this season.
West Coast coach John Worsfold and then captain Chris Judd with the 2006 premiership cup. Photo: Mal Fairclough
Only the third person to captain and coach a premiership at the same club – alongside Geelong's Reg Hickey and Hawthorn's David Parkin – Worsfold bows out with a winning percentage of 53.4. That figure should not be dismissed. Of the current AFL coaching crop to have coached longer than three seasons, only Ross Lyon (63 per cent) and Clarkson (60) have a better strike rate.
But Worsfold, despite a premiership, two grand final appearances and eight finals appearances from his dozen years at the helm, was often, if not dismissed, then under-estimated in coaching circles, the critics pointing to an alleged lack of tactical acumen and failure to respond quickly enough on match days.
His coaching attributes at West Coast were the stuff of the bigger picture, but no less significant for it.
Worsfold's unshakeable faith in his philosophies and the future played a huge role in lifting the Eagles from the foot of the ladder, not once but twice during his reign, those resurgences arguably more noteworthy than the premiership to which he led his club in 2006.
In his first season in charge in 2002, he inherited the ageing remnants of the playing list he had skippered, coming off successive finishes of 13th and 14th. Worsfold immediately had the Eagles back in the finals, where they would remain for six seasons, culminating in a grand final loss by a kick in 2005 before achieving the ultimate by a solitary point the following year.
His list was then torn apart, first by the drug problems of skipper and star Ben Cousins, then the departure to Carlton of Chris Judd. In two of three seasons between 2008 and '10, the Eagles would win just four games and pick up their first wooden spoon.
But even early on during that demise, Worsfold maintained, often to howls of derision, that West Coast would re-emerge sooner rather than later.
Over the summer of 2010-11, he oversaw the modification of training programs for his many veterans, all of whom responded with stunning seasons. He placed faith in youngsters such as Luke Shuey and Andrew Gaff, and he defied convention with a squad of super-talls like Dean Cox, Nic Naitanui, Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and Quinten Lynch, who could make their presence felt not only forward, but with mobility around the ground.
The results were stunning, West Coast rising all the way from 16th to the top four, as big a climb up the table as AFL football has seen. Ultimately, the Eagles fell short of another flag, but coaching hasn't seen many better single years than his in 2011.
Injuries helped thwart the most recent incarnation of West Coast, and by the end of this season, he and his team looked devoid of both inspiration or hope. But the Worsfold coaching legacy in his home state speaks for itself, whether the cognoscenti swooned or not.