Kane Cornes has voiced fears for the future of St Kilda after Ross Lyon was this week credited for pulling off a “coup”.
The Saints have endured a week of turmoil following the surprise news former chief executive Simon Lethlean has left the club — five weeks before the start of the 2024 AFL season.
The club announced the split was mutual, but reports indicate Lethlean was squeezed out after a long-running power struggle with Lyon.
Lyon famously returned to the club at the end of 2022 after ex-coach Brett Ratten was ruthlessly sacked in a move that saw club president Andrew Bassat flex his muscles with a captain’s call.
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Cornes has now voiced concern about the power Lyon wields at the club following the changes made to the football department in recent times.
Jarryd Roughead is among the group of figures to have departed the club recently, while recruitment duo James Gallagher and Chris Toce have also left.
Lyon’s disciples Lenny Hayes, Brendon Goddard and Robert Harvey have all returned, while Stephen Silvagni is also back in a senior recruiting role.
Cornes said on SEN Breakfast on Tuesday he would be scared as a member of the football department to challenge Lyon on any decision made.
“If he’s not happy with that he will get what he wants so that he is happy,” he said.
“And is it risky when one person has so much say over the football program? And the further question to that is, who challenges Ross Lyon?
“I’d be too scared to challenge him, Ross Lyon, to the point where you might get him offside and bang, you’re gone.”
Adding to Lyon’s power at the club is a report in The Age that suggests St Kilda’s next chief executive will have less of a say in football department matters.
According to widespread reports, Lyon and Lethlean butted heads about the ex-CEO’s diminishing role within the football department.
Cornes said the current dynamic of everything running through Lyon will at-best result in short-term success.
“The power and influence he has been able to get in the space of 12 months is extraordinary,” Cornes said.
“This isn’t criticism. There are different ways you can run a football program and Ross has had enormous success and they’ve got huge faith in him. He had a sensational first year, I get that. But I want to know who is going to be the one to challenge him because I think all good football programs rely on that challenge and input.
“I’d be too scared in case I got him offside and I was out the door like all the other people who’ve left.”
The Age’s Jake Niall on Monday described Lethlean’s departure as a win for Lyon and a “slow-motion coup d’etat”.
Lethlean’s departure after less than 18 months suggests Lyon has consolidated power.
Lethlean joined St Kilda in the 2018 pre-season as general manager of football before being elevated to chief operating officer then chief executive officer in late 2022.
Current chief operating officer Carl Dilena has assumed the role of acting chief executive.
Bassat said the Saints, under Lyon as coach, were looking at a “new strategy”.
“And I have agreed with the president that it is time for the club to seek a new CEO,” Bassat said.
“Under Simon’s leadership, the club has seen significant improvement on and off the field, including record membership and sponsorship levels in the club’s 150th year and a top eight finish last season following the implementation of the recommendations of the football review.
“Simon also played the vital role in successfully navigating the club through the Covid pandemic, which included the club returning to finals in 2020 for the first time since 2011.
“The club has undergone significant changes as a result of the 2022 football program review which highlighted the need to elevate our football department and place football at the heart of everything we do, which we hope will see St Kilda competing for premierships before too long.
“Simon and the board share the view that a new CEO would be best placed to take the club forward.
“We wish Simon all the best and thank him for his commitment to the club and the contribution he made to St Kilda and our community.”