Former Melbourne coach and Adelaide senior assistant coach Dean Bailey, 47, died Tuesday morning after a short battle with cancer.
Bailey was diagnosed with lung cancer in December. Players, coaches and staff gathered at the Crows’ training base at West Lakes to be told of the sad news at 9.30am.
Bailey took leave from his job as Adelaide’s strategy and innovation coach to fight the illness, but was still a frequent and popular visitor to the club.
On January 10, Crows coaching staff went 'bald for Bails' shaving their heads in a show of support for their popular compatriot.
Bailey coached Melbourne between 2008 and 2011, winning 22 of 83 games as he undertook a long-term rebuild of the struggling club’s playing list.
Bailey’s VFL/AFL career began at Essendon in 1986, after he was recruited from North Ringwood. He played 53 league games until 1992, and then spent three years with SANFL club Glenelg, where he won the best-and-fairest trophy in 1995. After three years coaching Queensland club Mt Gravatt, Bailey returned to Essendon as a development coach .In 2002 he joined Port Adelaide, working under coach Mark Williams as an assistant in the 2004 AFL premiership.
Respected for his calm demeanour, passion for football and dry sense of humour, Bailey was sacked after a catastrophic 186-loss by Melbourne at Geelong in round 19, 2011. However, the young Demons finished Bailey’s final two seasons with eight wins and a draw, still their best results since 2006.
Former Melbourne President Paul Gardner paid tribute to Bailey as a "charming man, a lovely man" who was a "loved person" at the club.
"He was a player's man," Gardner told SEN Tuesday morning, saying Bailey was much more at home on the training track with his charges than in the boardroom with administrators in a suit and tie.
Gardner said the club chose to seek an "educator" when it appointed Bailey to rebuild the team.
"He really did look at the Geelong model... he wanted to draft kids..."
Gardner said Bailey treated many players like his did his own sons. "Metaphorically, he had his arms around them..."
He said that it was sad Bailey didn't get to coach longer and see his vision for the Demons through.
"He's the one who could hold his head high," Gardner said of the era when Bailey was in charge of the Demons.
Adelaide reacted with sadness to the news of Bailey's passing.
"The Adelaide Football Club is deeply saddened by the passing of a much loved friend and colleague Dean Bailey," read a statement on the club's website.
"As many are aware, Dean had been battling cancer with his usual resilience and positive attitude, since being diagnosed last November.
"Sadly, he passed away overnight, surrounded by family.
"A fiercely loyal and caring man, Dean leaves a lasting impression on everyone at the Adelaide Football Club, and the football industry."
Crows Chief Executive Steven Trigg said Dean would be remembered as a hard-working, family man.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Dean’s wife, Caron and children Darcy and Mitchell," he said.
"They know that the entire Crows family is here to help and offer support.
"He often told how he gained most pleasure from teaching and helping young men become better players and more importantly, better people," Mr Trigg said.
"Dean’s dry sense of humour also provided many priceless moments.
"His influence stretches far beyond the Adelaide Football Club, given his involvement in the game across three states."
AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou told the AFL website that Bailey hadmade many friends in his long football career as a player and coach
"Dean was a man in the prime of life, surrounded by good friends and a loving family, whose life has been tragically cut way too short.
"His passing has shocked all in football, coming so soon after he was first diagnosed with illness, and devastated everyone who knew him well in the football community.
"Our thoughts and deepest condolences are extended to Dean's family and friends at this very difficult time - as well as the Essendon, Adelaide Crows, Melbourne and Port Adelaide football clubs where he had so many friends, both for his dry humour and deep knowledge and great love of our game.
"(His wife) Caron and the boys will be strengthened by the regard in which Dean was held by all who knew him and we hope they can find comfort in their many good memories together."
The Melbourne Football Club also expressed in its "deep sadness" at Bailey's death in a club statement.
"Dean's contribution to the game over his life was significant as a player and coach," said assistant coach Josh Mahoney, who was coached by Dean at Port Adelaide, and later worked with him at Melbourne
"From a personal perspective, Dean had an influence on a lot of the decisions I have made in my life. After first meeting him at Essendon in 2001, he was a major influence in me getting drafted by Port Adelaide, as well as entering coaching with the Melbourne Football Club.
"I know I will always remember him as a close mentor and friend, as will all the staff and players who knew him at Melbourne.
"His love for the game of AFL was infectious on everyone who came in contact with him. It took him across the country, chasing his dream of coaching and developing people and players.
"Bails had a dry sense of humour, and even in the toughest times he was often the man who would break the ice with a quick one liner.
AFL Coach's Association CEO Danny Frawley said that "Dean Bailey made an enormous contribution to football for almost 30 years across three states and with a broad range of clubs and organisations".
"Many young men will be thankful for having been tutored and mentored by Dean and we will all be better for having known him".
Frawley went onto say, "Dean has always been a strong supporter of the AFLCA and was a positive advocate of the programs put in place for coaches in the industry".
Great sadness today at the loss of Dean Bailey. My thoughts are with his family, friends & football fraternity who worked along side him. — Justin MaddenMP (@JMaddenMP) March 11, 2014
All at the Melbourne Football Club is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Dean Bailey. — Melbourne FC (@melbournefc) March 11, 2014
The club is deeply saddened by the passing of former player and assistant coach Dean Bailey. Our thoughts are with the Bailey family. — Essendon FC (@EssendonFC) March 10, 2014