Most footy-goers knew Dean Bailey as a sometimes gruff AFL coach – but they didn’t really know him at all, say those close to him.

The footy public knew Dean Bailey as a stone-faced, often gruff, AFL coach.

The footy public didn’t know him at all, say those who did.

Scratch the surface of Bailey’s public poker-face and a kind, compassionate and downright funny man was readily revealed.

“A wonderful sense of humour,” said Adelaide chief executive Steven Trigg of Bailey, who died on Tuesday morning from lung cancer, aged 47.

In his last days, Bailey joked about being bald from chemotherapy.

“For him, it was talking about how bloody hairy he was in all the places except for the right places on top of his scone,” Trigg said.

In his darkest AFL days, when serving a 16-match suspension for his role in alleged tanking when Melbourne’s head coach, Bailey could still crack up the playing group at his last club, the Crows.

“His dry sense of humour … even during his suspension he was able to get a laugh out of the players,” said Adelaide coach Brenton Sanderson.

Bailey became Sanderson’s mentor, and the Crows’ strategy and innovation coach, in 2012.

The previous year, he was sacked as Melbourne’s head coach.

He departed with whispers of tanking later becaming a roar when the AFL investigated.

The league found the Demons didn’t deliberately set out to lose matches – but nonetheless suspended Bailey for acting “in a manner which was prejudicial to the interests of the AFL”.

Bailey denied tanking but admitted putting Melbourne’s needs ahead of his own future as a senior coach.

“What we have done is the right thing by the club and, if it cost me my job, so be it,” Bailey said at a media conference announcing his sacking.

“I was asked to do the best thing by the Melbourne Football Club and I did it.”

Confidants said his stance was typical of Bailey, who was recruited by Essendon from suburban Melbourne club North Ringwood.

Bailey, a solid utility with a precise kick and envied work rate, played 53 AFL games for the Bombers.

He then went to Adelaide and the SANFL, where he won a club champion award at Glenelg in a 61-game span.

After retiring in 1996, Bailey pursued coaching.

He started at Queensland state league club Mt Gravatt (1997-99), then returned to AFL ranks: at Essendon (development coach 2000-2001), Port Adelaide (assistant coach 2002-07) Melbourne (head coach (2008-11) and Adelaide (strategy and innovation coach 2012-14).

In coaching, Bailey earnt nation-wide respect as a shrewd tactician and a caring character, which he subdued in media conferences.

“He’s probably one of the kindest humans I have ever come across,” said Melbourne midfielder Jack Trengove.

“He was a real father figure and role model.”

Another Demon, co-captain Jack Grimes, said Bailey shielded players from the brunt of media focus during the club’s tough times.

“He protected us. Whether that was right or wrong, I don’t know,” Grimes said.

“There were probably times when he had to look out for himself a bit more instead of looking out for everyone else.”

Last November, Bailey, a married father of two sons, suddenly fell ill.

Admitted to hospital, fluid was found in his left lung. Further tests revealed cancer.

“This cancer was incredibly aggressive,” Crows coach Sanderson said.

“Unfortunately, only three months after he was diagnosed, he has lost his battle.

“His courage was just incredible. He just kept fighting and that is something we can all learn from.”