In an explosive interview ahead of next month's board elections, Bulldogs chairman Ray Dib opens up about a tumultuous 12 months at the club. He talks about the sacking of coach Des Hasler; reveals how Hasler cost the club the signing of James Tedesco and Mitchell Moses; and also pleads with members to either back him or the rival Reform ticket, which is gunning for control of Belmore.
Many people don't know your Bulldogs background. What is it?
I lived in Moreton Street, Lakemba, my whole life. I went to St Johns and that's where I met Kevin Moore and we played in a famous side that won five premierships in a row from under 12s to 16s. Then Bullfrog (the late Canterbury patriarch Peter Moore) gave me a scholarship to go to St Gregory's of Campbelltown in 1983. My parents were struggling so he paid my school fees. I was part of the Jersey Flegg in '83 with Kevin.
Tell us about the 1984 grand final???
I had given up footy to go to university. So, Bullfrog let me be a third-grade trainer. My job was to massage the players and then put Vasoline on their knees and legs. At halftime, the Wok (former coach Warren Ryan) was pissed off because we were down. Bullfrog kicked everyone out of the dressing-room except the 13 players, no reserves. There was the Wok, the Bullfrog and me because I was greasing up the players. I was going really slow, eavesdropping. That was the time he had a big go at Steve Mortimer because we were losing the scrums. I kept the game ball after the game. I don't know how it found its way into my bag.
Proud Bulldog: Ray Dib (left) cut his teeth at Belmore as a lower-grade trainer and junior rep player. Photo: Supplied
Do you think people undervalue your ties to the club?
I don't think they appreciate the history because I wasn't a known first-grader but my passion for the club goes in deep. Everyone owns this club. Not one family or name or person owns it. The community owns it.
In the last year, you've lost your coach, captain, CEO and senior players. If I'm a Bulldogs member, why am I voting you and your board back in?
Look, we've made mistakes, there's no doubt about it. I make mistakes in my personal and business life all the time. As long as I don't make them twice. If we had our time again, I wouldn't change a lot. The big question is Des Hasler. When we signed him, nobody complained in 2012 and 2014 (when the Bulldogs made the grand final). But 2014 was the worst thing that happened to us. It camouflaged a few holes in the place.
What holes are you talking about?
I trusted too many people. Trusting people is my weakness.
Are you talking about recruitment? What in particular?
I'm talking about staff, personnel. The board's mandate is to have a CEO and a coach, and after that the board has very little involvement with the day to day running of the club. Towards the end, the board got involved, moving on some of the football staff that Des brought to the club. We didn't think we were getting value for our investment. Des needed new blood around him.
Ray Dib: 'I trusted too many people. Trusting people is my weakness.' Photo: Steven Siewert
We could all see it: the way the side has played the last couple of years has been hard to watch. Something had to change. Should you not have made the hard call on Des sooner?
When you've got one of the best coaches in the game, and you look at the stats, we'd lost eight games by one or two points, we had the best defensive records but the attack let us down. Des was also still under contract. The first contract that Des signed had some clauses in his favour. Greatly in his favour. His last contract took so long to negotiate ??? about 18 months ??? because we wanted to make sure the clauses were in our favour.
Can you be more specific?
To entice a premiership-winning coach, you have to give a little bit more. And Todd (Greenberg, the former CEO who now heads the NRL) did that. Maybe too much. We gave Des probably too much control, but you're trying to get the best coach in the game four weeks after he won the grand final with Manly. But, mate, we've turned it around in three months: we found a new coach, a new CEO, a new general manager of football, we tidied up the roster. People keep saying, "You lost James Graham, you lost Josh Reynolds, you lost your CEO". We didn't lose anyone. We gained Aaron Woods and Kieran Foran. We gained Andrew Hill. We gained Dean Pay and Andrew Farrar.
What about your salary cap?
We were too honest. Every player we increased and extended their terms, we registered that immediately with the NRL. I know some clubs today haven't registered existing contracts because they would be over the cap. We knew there were players to move on.
But you were shedding players up until the last minute to fit them in???
We were a hundred percent satisfied with our position. People say we pushed Josh out. He was offered a three-year deal by us. Wests Tigers offered him a four-year deal. He said to me in my office, "I don't want to look money hungry, Dibby". I told him it was a no-brainer. James Graham was a great leader and captain. He has been carrying a lot of weight on his shoulders. He told me a year ago that he didn't want to be captain beyond this year. Nobody knows that. The captaincy was taking its toll, working with Des. He respects Des but Des is a difficult character. He's a hard person and players and staff found it hard to approach him. I told Des that but he didn't believe it. Des wasn't given the feedback he deserved because players and staff didn't feel comfortable. James got offered a three-year deal at the Dragons. I couldn't stand in his way.
Back to Des. You announced his re-signing in April, sacked him in September. Any way you look at it, that's dishonourable.
It's in the courts but I can say what's factual. Before we signed Des, Raelene (Castle, the former CEO) had been negotiating with his manager, George Mimis, for 12 months. They wanted a continuation of the original clauses. We wanted it in our favour, not his favour. We weren't going to give him the full autonomy that he'd had. We gave him that opportunity, we got to two grand finals but never won a premiership. Then in 2016, we had an ordinary year and the players blamed themselves. Des presented to the board before the 2017 and said the style of play would change. The first couple of rounds, the style changed. When you've got a lot of big-name players coming off contract, they want to know who the coach is before they re-sign. You're talking to Tedesco, Moses and Woods. All three were ready to sign, mate. All three. But Des didn't want Mitchell Moses because he said he wasn't the style of player and couldn't play the footy he wanted to play. Des said, He's not good enough to play. All three were done. Then Des wasn't convinced on Moses. I organised a personal meeting with Tedesco and Woods with Des Hasler. And they tried to convince Des Hasler that Mitchell was our man. Tedesco said, "I want to play for the Dogs but I need to know who the halves will be. If you sign Mitchell, I will sign tomorrow. I'm with you". Des said no. I remember both those players were prepared to sacrifice part of their contacts to bring Mitchell over. But once again, it was Des' call.
Was it his call as per his contract?
No, but the Bulldogs board has a philosophy that the coach lives and dies by his own decisions, we've never interfered with recruitment unless there's a player with a colourful history. Des could never blame the board for his players. It was his team.
So why did you re-sign him so early?
In April, I said to the board we can't wait until midyear to make a call on the coach because we're going to miss out on some of these recruitments. We had an offer from his manager, which was his MOU, and we were comfortable with the terms. That's when we extended him. But in the next six months we went from bad to worse. Our members demand success. We've listened to the players, we gave Des plenty of opportunities, but it wasn't happening.
For many of your fans, it was the right decision ??? but they're still howling about how it was done and the fact you won't pay him out. What do you say to them?
They don't know the intricacies of what happened behind the scenes. But would they have been happy if we lost Dave Klemmer, Josh Jackson, a number of high-profile players coming through, if we didn't sign Aaron Woods, Kieran Foran? Would they be more disappointed if we terminated him earlier and we didn't know who the coach would be? It was a catch-22.
???Difficult character': Club staff and players found Des Hasler hard to approach, says Dib. Photo: AAP
Are you comfortable legally with the position you've taken with Des?
Absolutely, otherwise the board would never have acted. People are saying to just pay him out. It's not our money to just give away. There was a discussion that day about a settlement. An offer was made but it was declined. We've got other things that we want to disclose but we can't. It would show the members why we acted as we did. Hopefully we can say something at the AGM.
The Reform ticket (which includes former internationals Chris Anderson, Steve Price and Paul Dunn, as well as Anderson's wife, Lynne) last week accused you and your board of hiring a PR firm to "dig dirt" on them. How do you respond?
The Reform ticket, I know all those people. I've either worked with them on boards, they've worked for me or we've been friends. I've always admired Lynne Anderson. I encouraged her to be a voting member. I paid the membership fee initially because I thought she would be the first female board member of the club. Not because of her pedigree, but because of the person she is. But it disappointed me that Lynne said she had never been approached. Then she became a member of the Titans board. If I knew Lynne had aspirations and wasn't a member of the Titans board, she would've been one of the first people I approached. If those people on the Reform ticket had been so concerned about our club, I would've expected some of them to approach me and talked to me about it. I know some people are doing this for personal reasons.
You're talking about Paul Dunn here.
I don't want to mention names but some people are personally unhappy with me for whatever reasons.
He used to work for you.
Paul did for a number of years. Paul sat with us on the board for a number of years. I still don't understand his gripe.
Can you tell me hand on heart that you and your board have not started a smear campaign against the rival ticket?
I was shocked when their statement was released. Lynne called me three weeks ago and said she was going to play this with a straight bat. And I said I would not expect anything less from her. If that information came into their hands, why wouldn't they just ring me? Why go to select media first? They blindsided it. Categorically, untrue. It's with the lawyers.
Where are you taking this club?
The first thing is for the members, if they care and respect the club, to do one thing: vote for the incumbent board or vote for the Reform ticket. Look at what happened at the Wests Tigers all these years. It's hard with two factions. After that press release last week, that's hurt a lot of people. I ask the members: don't elect a mixed board. If you can't trust each other, it can't work. And if I'm not chairman, it's best that I step aside and give the board the best opportunity to succeed. The Reform ticket were banking on us keeping Des. We made the courageous decision to get rid of him.
Why are Bulldogs board elections always so ugly?
You talk about nepotism. I don't see a husband and wife on the same board as good governance. We don't care what your surname is. You don't get a walk-in start because of your past. We've all moved on.
How tough has the criticism been from your members and fans?
Last year, at Manly, we were leaving the ground and one member blamed me for the loss and spat at me. It's disappointing but it comes with the role.