IN HIS office inside the Bulldogs' high-performance centre, Des Hasler is as relaxed as you might find a coach who, in public, rarely looks less than agitated. Training has recommenced. Memories of the grand final, and its unfortunate aftermath, have slowly subsided. The club has added a hyperbaric chamber to its impressive sports science arsenal. The famous locks are growing back.
Fourteen months after leaving his footballing home of 27 years, Hasler looks comfortably ensconced at Belmore. So much so that you ask if, after all that time in maroon and white, he now feels like a Bulldog.
''There is certainly club tradition and things like that, and I'm not going to say it's just a job,'' Hasler says. ''But for me it's not about what you are, I'm passionate about what I do. And if you're not passionate about that, it's time to change direction.''
It was not a lack of passion that caused Hasler to leave Manly after they won the 2011 premiership. It was a move made reluctantly, but one that has inadvertently enhanced Hasler's reputation. As Wayne Bennett proved there was success after Brisbane with St George Illawarra, no one considers Hasler to be merely a ''Manly creature'' since he took the Bulldogs to the grand final.
Not that Hasler is blowing his own trumpet. This, after all, is the private man who once refused to confirm or deny it was his birthday.
After a tour of the training facilities, Hasler introduces you to members of his staff, and extols their virtues. But when it comes time to talk about his role in an eventful and, until grand final day, wonderfully successful first season at Belmore, Hasler is less effusive. Typically, rather than answering questions, he prefers to defuse them.
No doubt, Hasler's natural fear of being misinterpreted or misunderstood has been heightened by the circumstances of his departure from Manly, and the allegations of misbehaviour levelled against his players after the grand final - the controversies that bookended his first year, and deflected attention from a subject closer to his heart: his and his staff's methods, and the manner in which they were embraced by the Bulldogs.
Hasler does not want to revisit the politics of his split with Manly. ''I should never have left there,'' he says of the circumstances that led to his defection. Otherwise, he sees no point in opening old wounds.
''It was difficult to leave, having spent 27 years there,'' Hasler says. ''You made a lot of friendships, you had a lot of success. It probably could have been handled better.''
So Hasler has maintained his silence and his dignity. ''Once you start getting into that mudslinging, it's no good. Past greats come out and accuse you of being a mercenary or being this or that, and it gets out of hand.''
Similarly, Hasler does not want to go into the details of the Mad Monday incident that marred the Bulldogs' post-season - despite his obvious frustration that the club's version about abuse allegedly directed at a female reporter during Mad Monday has not been heard.
But, you ask, did it hurt that the club's achievements on the field were overshadowed?
''Yeah, enough for us to tell the truth,'' Hasler says. ''But the damage had been done. What was done wasn't reported accurately and we couldn't do anything about that.''
You ask Hasler if changing clubs had been a wrench. ''It's a challenge,'' he says. ''Football clubs aren't too much different. To come to the Bulldogs and start working with people, and engaging people and watching people develop and grow - that's your job.''
It is also Hasler's passion. The coach's voice rises and his eyes widen when he talks about the Bulldogs' development. ''I can't rap them enough the way they were able to buy in so quickly,'' he says. ''They were on the same page [as his staff], and they just kept growing and kept evolving.''
So quickly that the Bulldogs went on a 12-game winning streak, despite injuries to five outside backs. The fact mid-season replacements Sam Perrett and Krisnan Inu fitted seamlessly into the team, Hasler says, was vindication of the structure he and his staff created.
Fullback Ben Barba gained much of the limelight. But Hasler is equally effusive about other players who thrived. ''There are many stories; Benny's just one. His growth as a player and a person, what he learnt and what he took on and how he strove to improve all aspects of his football and his life.''
Sam Kasiano, Josh Morris, Josh Reynolds … Hasler becomes animated as he recites the names of others who ''took advantage of the coaches and people that were put around them. To watch Michael Ennis, to see what he was perceived as, to the way he is perceived now, it's just incredible.''
Hasler's first year with the Bulldogs did not get its happy ending. Instead, it ended with a frustrating 14-4 grand final defeat by the Storm.
Inevitably, much of the focus fell on James Graham allegedly biting Billy Slater's ear, and his subsequent 12-match ban. But Hasler denies the incident distracted his team. ''It was a great thing for football to write about, but it had no bearing,'' he says.
Rather, Hasler wonders if he should have warned his players about how fiercely determined the Storm would be to put a trophy in a cabinet raided by the NRL.
''If anything, I was probably a bit negligent not focusing in on what it meant for Melbourne to win, to say, 'They will be just as passionate and focused as we are.' But I didn't want to make these young blokes nervous. Melbourne probably handled the moment a bit better than what we did.''
Eventually, the spotlight on Hasler's change of clubs will diminish. But the expectations of his Bulldogs will rise. Hasler is preparing for that the only way he knows: by finding every advantage he can from a stats sheet, an exercise machine, a training drill and - now - a hyperbaric chamber. And working.
''We coach to achieve, we coach to develop and we coach to make people successful,'' he says. ''Whatever problems arise, we solve those problems. We just have to keep working hard. There are areas in our game we know we can improve. We are nowhere near a complete football team.
''We know we can become a much more competent football team than the one you saw last year.''