Future Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell has strongly denied reports he wants Alastair Clarkson to depart the club a year earlier than agreed to in the succession plan.
It was reported earlier in the week by Caroline Wilson on Footy Classified that Mitchell’s preference was to take the head coaching role in 2022 rather than 2023, while Clarkson was set to dig his heels in and stick around.
Speaking on SEN’s Whateley, Mitchell admitted the last few weeks have been “quite the baptism of fire”.
However, he strongly denied the reports and provided detail on the succession plan and stepping away from the Collingwood coaching search.
Gerard Whateley: “Have you suggested you want to be Hawthorn coach next year and would prefer Alastair Clarkson not be at the Hawks?”
Mitchell: “Absolutely not. That has not happened. We’ve been working on some form of succession plan for such a long period of time, if you’ll do me the privilege, I’ll explain how long ago this started and how it’s still all on track. There’s still plenty to work out of course.
“In 2016 when I left to go to West Coast, Clarko said ‘it will be great for him, he’s got coaching aspirations to get some experience at a new club’ then he rang me halfway through 2018 and said ‘it would be great for you to come back it would be ideal if you took over from me at some stage, no promises, but it would be a great situation for us so let’s try and work towards that’.
“Then over the last three years, I’ve gone to footy sub-committee meetings and started developing my own skill sets and over my journey having been part of all of these steppingstones was always going to be a part of it.
“As soon as I knew the club was not going to reappoint Clarko, my options became to continue on and attempt to go for the Collingwood job or if not do that, I knew someone else was going to coach Hawthorn in 2023 and so they gave me the option of taking that.
“I said I’ve built such a strong relationship and it’s been the plan for such a long period of time and now it’s coming around. For me, I’m a little bit bemused by the whole situation. I’ve been working with Clarko for the best part of 20 years consistently, but apparently we still don’t get along.”
Whateley: “Is it possible anything you said in last week’s meeting could have been misconstrued as wanting to take over next season?”
Mitchell: “No. I don’t think that is part of it. Everyone talks about that meeting like it was a one-off or the only time we’ve ever met. I heard some of the media reports talking about it and it’s like, if you’re in an organisation like Hawthorn, you are going to have all of these discussions all of the time and if you all agree on everything, then what’s the point having so many people doing it?
“You have to have people with differing views all of the time. Part of what happened on that particular meeting … we caught up, everyone knew we were doing it, and at the end of that meeting we did not have every answer, which would be plain for anyone to see that if you’re working through something this big, it’s a continual work in progress.
“Everything we are working towards is Clarko coaching next year and me maintaining the role which I love working with these young fellas and watching them progress and now a heap of them are getting games at the moment and I’m absolutely loving that.”
Whateley: “So is it your absolute desire to work with Alastair next year?”
Mitchell: “Absolutely. 100 per cent. I think the perfect situation here is, we don’t have all the answers just yet … everything is a little bit grey. Recruiting for instance will be mainly my area and Clarko will be involved and the gameplan is mainly Clarko’s area and I’ll be a little bit involved.”
“We’re working on all of these little details and that’s part of what a good organisation does. It plans for the future. Right now we’re 17th on the ladder and everyone at Hawthorn is working so hard … and yet all of these people (in the media) who have a genuine lack of knowledge about the internal workings. There’s all this ‘I spoke to this person at the club’. I find it very hard to believe that anyone who is speaking to anyone at the club would say we don’t get along because it’s a not reality.”
On Clarkson’s exit from the club and the succession plan timeline
Mitchell: “My understanding of what happened between the club and Clarko was they told Clarko that he wouldn’t be reappointed after next year. That was one thing that happened.”
“The next thing that happened is they approached me to say ‘Clarko is not going to be reappointed at the end of next year, would you like to take this job’ and it was at that time I pulled out of the Collingwood job.
“I decided I didn’t want to pursue Collingwood because I’d invested so much in Hawthorn and have invested so much for such a long time and I was so passionate about our development and our future that I decided that rather than let Hawthorn go through a process of finding a new coach in 2023 that that would be something that I would absolutely be proud and honoured to do.
“Particularly because we’ve spent six years really, since back in 2016 when Clarko said ‘I know you’ve got coaching aspirations I think it would be great for you to get experience at another club’. I think I’ve worked with nine of the current AFL coaches in some way or another, so I’ve learned a lot and I will continue to do that over the next 12 months.”
Whateley: “That sequence of events Sam, is it important that people understand that you didn’t take Clarkson’s job?”
Mitchell: I must admit, I’ve been a bit disappointed, I probably shouldn’t say it on radio, but I kind of get a bit pissed off about people saying that. There’s nothing about anything I’ve done – I’ve worked with Clarko for nearly 20 years – and the fact that people would say I’m trying to push him out is disrespectful to both of us because we’ve had a working relationship for such a long period of time…”
“If I wanted to coach next year I would have continued to pursue the Collingwood coaching opportunity if it went that way. They’re a very good club and I’ve got a good relationship with Graham Wright. I could’ve continued down that path if that was what I wanted.
“Every piece of evidence says that that isn’t true.”
Whateley: “Alastair seemingly is disappointed that he is not going to continue as coach (beyond 2022) separate to your arrangement, are you aware of that? Have you spoke to him about that?”
Mitchell: My conversations with Clarko around that are really for him to speak of, but Matthew his son finishes school at the end of next year and my understanding he was ready for that to be an option for him and I don’t know what happened between Clarko and the club and whether Clarko wanted to be continuing on and that’s not my area to get involved in.
“The only part I know is Clarko was not going to be reappointed, that was the board’s decision, and that was a separate thing to me taking over.
“The options that came to me were: Hawthorn can go through a process in 2023 or you can do the job and to me, I was desperate to the job. I love Hawthorn. It’s a fantastic club I’ve invested half of my life into and I want to continue to try and improve us.”
LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH SAM MITCHELL BELOW