Remarkably, by the time Collingwood or St Kilda are crowned as premiers on Saturday, last year’s flag-winners Geelong are likely to have lost their coach, as well as star player Gary Ablett.
Thompson, Cats coach since 2000, who oversaw the club’s 2007 and 2009 triumphs, told club officials on Tuesday he was so exhausted he might not return in 2011 for the final year of his contract.
Geelong officials, caught off-guard despite noticing signs of fatigue in their coach, have given him until this weekend to make a final decision.
Assistant coach Brenton Sanderson and former assistant Ken Hinkley, now with Gold Coast, are the frontrunners to replace Thompson, should he quit.
Chief executive Brian Cook said Thompson had assured them he had no plans to join Essendon, despite speculation he was set to form a dream team with new Bombers coach Hird in an overseeing role.
Hird, Essendon’s 2000 premiership captain and five-time best and fairest, was handed a four-year term on Tuesday, despite having no AFL coaching experience.
But Essendon intend to add an experienced senior assistant, with Port Adelaide premiership coach Mark Williams and former North Melbourne coach Dean Laidley the leading candidates.
“Very quickly we have to put some processes in place that we can surround this club with the best coaching panel,” Hird said.
“I believe that it’s about a coaching panel, I don’t believe it’s about one person.
“You look at the best clubs in the AFL and they have the best coaching panels and that’s what we’re trying to replicate.”
Cook said the Cats needed a decision from Thompson by this weekend, with several pressing issues to deal with, including their approach to trade week, which starts next Tuesday.
Ablett is expected to announce in the next few days he is joining Gold Coast, although Cook said the club was still hanging onto hope.
“I’ve got a feeling he’s probably made his decision, whether (Thompson’s future) will have an effect on that decision, I can’t answer,” said Cook.
“We’re not sure, we don’t know – don’t read into that as though we think he’ll go. I hope he stays, really hope he stays (but) I think the odds are against us.”
The AFL is understood to have delayed Ablett’s announcement last week to avoid diluting focus on the grand final, but his manager Liam Pickering has told the Cats he will make the call this week.
That announcement is sure to also overshadow what was already a low-key build-up to the grand final, as Hird and Thompson did on Tuesday.
While Hird said he was inspired to lift the Bombers from “rock bottom”, Geelong need to decide whether to enter rebuilding mode, with their era of dominance seemingly over after their crushing preliminary final defeat to Collingwood.
Cook said the club hoped Thompson stayed, but would support whatever decision he made.
“The unfortunate reality is he is, in our opinion and we’re not medicos, but he is suffering some form of burnout after 11 years,” Cook said.
“He’s reassessing his life, he’s reassessing his future and we’re caught in the middle of all that.”