AFL boss Gillon McLachlan became emotional during a press conference announcing why he was quitting after eight years in charge.
Gillon McLachlan has announced he is quitting as AFL CEO at the end of the season after eight years in charge.
The news was confirmed at a press conference alongside AFL Commission Chairman Richard Goyder in Melbourne, after reports emerged earlier on Tuesday morning he was going to step down.
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Goyder said McLachlan told him on the weekend of his intention to walk away from the top job, adding, tongue in cheek, he was “not happy” with the decision but still “completely supportive”.
Goyder paid tribute to McLachlan’s legacy and praised the work he’s done for footy at all levels – from grassroots to the AFL.
The Commission Chairman also thanked McLachlan for his leadership, his empathy, his intuition and his decision making, calling him “one of the best people I’ve ever worked with”.
McLachlan became emotional, choking back tears, when he spoke about his love of footy and why he was leaving his post.
“I’m leaving now because it feels right – right for the AFL, right for me, right for my family,” he said.
McLachlan added he was leaving at a time when the AFL and the sport as a whole was in “incredible shape on whatever metric you assess it”.
Asked what sparked his conversation with Goyder on the weekend, McLachlan said watching the AFLW Grand Final in Adelaide convinced him the time was right to go.
“I just said I think this feels right… it just felt the right time,” he said, adding he wanted to give the Commission enough time to prepare for his departure.
“It just felt right on the weekend. We sat on the front of the plane and nutted it out and that was it.
“It’s an emotional day. I feel really good about where the league is and I feel good about the fact it’s the right time (to leave).
“I was clear I wouldn’t feel comfortable until everything was in order. I just feel good leaving at the end of this year … it’s the right time for me and the game. “
As for his future, McLachlan said, “I’ve had some thoughts but had no conversations of substance. It’s terrifying but exhilarating. ”
According to reports, McLachlan had indicated he planned to quit before the pandemic but stayed on to help the league through its most tumultuous period.
“Gillon did the right thing not to step away during the pandemic,” veteran footy reporter Caroline Wilson told 3AW radio, adding he “stayed in longer than even he intended.”
Goyder said the AFL would appoint an “executive search firm” to help find McLachlan’s replacement.
“Gil has built a strong executive team internally, but this is an important decision and we will undertake a rigorous process to ensure we have the best person to take over the role,” Goyder said in a statement.
McLachlan took over from former CEO Andrew Demetriou in 2014 and has guided the league through a significant period of change.
He helped establish the AFLW, which will soon expand to 18 teams, and got the men’s league back up and running as soon as possible after the Covid-19 hit.
McLachlan continued to be responsible for keeping the competition afloat amid bubbles, isolation and hubs that have become all-too-familiar over the past two years.
The footy boss started at the AFL more than two decades ago as a strategy consultant and held various other roles including GM commercial operations and chief commercial officer.
McLachlan progressed to become Demetriou’s right-hand man before ultimately replacing him as CEO.
What is McLachlan’s legacy and who will replace him?
Broadcaster Gerard Whateley said there was a feeling among some in the footy community this season would be McLachlan’s last.
“I think coming into the pandemic there was a strong feeling that McLachlan felt that his work was nearing its end and then a whole new set of circumstances arose,” Whateley said on SEN radio.
“His pledge was to lead the game through the pandemic. We would forecast that by the end of this season that whatever Covid normal is going to be for all of society will be well established so it seems like a natural end point.
“To guide the game through the pandemic was going to be his last major task and a bit of forecasting that will probably end at the end of this season.”
Whateley added McLachlan’s legacy would be defined by guiding the game through the “grave threat” presented by the pandemic and fast-tracking implementation of the AFLW.
McLachlan’s replacement could be sourced from within the AFL headquarters of clubland. Internally, Whateley believes GM Broadcasting and Clubs, Travis Auld, is at the top of the list ahead of General Counsel Andrew Dillon. Externally, Richmond CEO Brendon Gale has been mentioned as a candidate.