Former West Coast coach John Worsfold has revealed stunning behind-the-scenes details of the drug scandal that enveloped the Eagles in the mid-2000s, pinpointing the moment he knew the club had a serious problem.
Speaking at _The West Australian's _Leadership Matters breakfast at Crown Perth yesterday, Worsfold said he became aware of drug and alcohol problems when players voiced their concerns at a training camp in Queensland after the 2004 season.
Worsfold said Ben Cousins had been "a bit outed" by other players over his behaviour and hinted there had been splits in player ranks over behavioural issues.
Eagles players and a handful of staff and coaches went to Queensland in search of a "shared vision" after making - but not winning - finals in 2002, 2003 and 2004.
Players voted that they wanted to be known as a club that did not abuse drugs and alcohol.
"For that to be part of it was the first real indication to me that there was something underlying, some poor culture within this group and most of the players seemed to know about it," Worsfold said.
"A lot of players were saying, 'We don't like that culture coming in'. That to me was the start of us addressing the cultural issues we had at West Coast."
Worsfold described Cousins as "the headline" in a "challenging leadership time, for me personally and for all of us".
He said that during 2005 other players became more comfortable about blowing the whistle on drug use.
"That was what started to bring some of the issues to the surface that had been quietly bubbling along underneath," Worsfold said.
"I believe that was a big part of Ben Cousins being a bit outed from the group and from that he became more reckless in some of his actions. He got into trouble more publicly and it was easier to deal with internally by our football club because we actually had something that he was doing wrong and could show him and prove to him and he couldn't deny it.
"We had to work through all that. We removed him as captain at the end of the season (2005) and that again diminished his power and his influence over the group even further.
"Cultural change takes an enormous amount of effort and an enormous amount of time. You can't do it overnight. You can't generally do it in one or two years."
The club had to turn over a big number of players to change the culture, which led to a painful list rebuild in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and the club's first wooden spoon before the Eagles again climbed the ladder.
"I stuck with the guys, not necessarily the star players, but I stuck with the guys that were helping us achieve the shared vision that the whole group had decided to go with," Worsfold said.
"I have got no doubt that is what helped keep the group together."
Worsfold talks further about the Eagles' troubles in the mid-2000s in next week's edition of _WestBusiness Insider _magazine, which is free in metro editions of _The West _.
The former All-Australian writes about being warned by police about Cousins' behaviour.
"I met with police on one occasion and they suggested to me that Ben was at risk of breaking the law," he writes.
"This confused me because, as I suggested to them, if that was the case he should be arrested and charged, like everyone else.
"I was not sure what they expected from me."
Worsfold describes spending time with Cousins and the addict's father Bryan in a "pastoral care" role.
He writes about how the scandal made him question his coaching abilities.
John Worsfold will be sharing his leadership experiences in a series of events at the Australian Institute of Management WA