The breathless speculation about Adam Simpson’s future – whether from allegedly well-informed mainstream media veterans or passionate but uninformed fans – revolves around one key but ignorant premise.
It goes like this: the West Coast board is going to meet this week or next when they will decide whether to honour the final two years of the premiership coach’s contract or pay up to $6 million to sack him.
“Simpson faces a nervous wait,” one report said. “He deserves an answer,” another suggested. “The club can afford a pay-out so it is simply a matter of a board vote,” a third assessed.
But no one has asked these questions.
What are the ramifications for WA football if Simpson is sacked? What is the decision-making process? How would it affect the WAFL?
And how would this play out with important stakeholders like the WA government?
The answers are straightforward.
Badly. Really badly, actually.
Simpson’s four-year contract extension signed just two years ago provides him with considerable protection but the prospect of a pay-out being tripled by an AFL tax on football department budget blow-outs makes him almost untouchable.
It is not just about the money but it is all about the money.
West Coast are wholly owned by the WA Football Commission which means a decision of this magnitude would have to be approved by that body.
There is a charter of independence in place, the legacy of the WAFC’s historic deal to take over original West Coast owner Indian Pacific, but that charter has to balanced against the football club’s need to operate reasonably at all times. West Coast might be independent in most things but the WAFC has what is known as the “nuclear option”, the capacity to sack the Eagles board if it goes rogue.
That won’t happen here but the West Coast board cannot just run up an extraordinary $6 million expenditure item without WAFC approval.
And the WAFC is not likely to approve something that is going to cut its own throat, undermine WAFL clubs and other programs, and do considerable brand damage at a time that it is negotiating with the government over the future funding of football.
The finances are bad enough but the optics are worse.
West Coast paid a $2.7 million royalty to the WAFC last year, down $1.1 million on the previous year, but what would that drop to with a $6 million debit on the books? $1 million? Nothing?
Carrying even more weight is the current discussion with government to extend the first 10-year compensation deal for moving football from Subiaco Oval to Optus Stadium. That initial agreement was $10.3 million a year, indexed, but the government does not want to pay that much and is arguing strongly for a sizeable cut when the next deal starts in four years’ time.
It is untenable for the WAFC to put its hand out for more money while allowing $6 million to be paid to facilitate the contentious sacking of a successful, well-regarded and recently contracted football identity.
Treasurer Rita Saffioti and sport minister David Templeman will laugh WAFC chairman Wayne Martin out of their offices if he tries that on. At the very least, they would most likely seek the resignations of the six current West Coast board members who approved the re-signing of Simpson two years ago. That’s the suitcase nuclear option.
So, what does the crystal ball forecast for West Coast’s immediate future?
Don Pyke is a dual West Coast premiership player, former Adelaide coach and current Sydney assistant, and potential replacement for either Simpson, CEO Trevor Nisbett or chairman Paul Fitzpatrick. He is football’s most credentialled and versatile utility player.
But he will return to Perth as soon as Sydney’s finals campaign ends to become West Coast football manager tasked with sorting out the recruiting, development and S&C disasters that have plagued the club in recent times.
West Coast have no bigger issue than their football department and need their sharpest operator to attend to it.
Soon enough, and as part of a managed transition that mirrors his predecessor’s own rise into the top job, Pyke will replace Nisbett as West Coast’s most important and influential figure.
Meanwhile, Simpson will remain as coach, earning a million dollars a year to take charge of a list bolstered by several years of early draft picks, with the responsibility for preparing them for the next premiership coach to inherit and hone.
West Coast need a visionary approach.
And they need to avoid a devastating and unnecessary pay-out that could hamper WA football for years to come.
Follow the money and the future is clear.