Kane Cornes and Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett have gone head to head over where the Hawks are at heading into 2022 and beyond.
It was a turbulent 2021 for Hawthorn, making the controversial call to move on from four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson.
Despite the club’s second straight season in the bottom third of the ladder and the coaching transition plan falling apart, Kennett is confident the Hawks are in the best position they have ever been in.
Kennett’s final term as club president was set to end at the end of 2023, but a letter to members on Thursday night indicated he may move on sooner.
“The club is in the best condition it has ever been, it’s membership is the second highest it’s ever been, we’ve got all our sponsors lined up for the future, we’re building Dingley, we’ve got our AFLW license. With the exception of finalising the issues around Tasmania, the club is in the best position it has ever been,” Kennett told SEN’s Captain’s Run.
“I think that’s a good time for me to prepare to leave and we’ve put up this nominations committee, which is the way the corporate world acts to find my successor. It’s part of orderly transition, nothing surprising, it had to start some time and it will start after the AGM this year.”
Cornes followed up on Kennett’s assertation that the club is thriving.
Cornes: “When you say the club is in the best position it has ever been, I would disagree with that, Jeff. I’m happy to debate that with you. You’re paying the best coach of the modern era $900,000 to have a holiday in the U.S and there’s been some conjecture over your list and other areas, Sam Mitchell in the chair quicker than you would have expected. Is that accurate or is that spin that the club is in the best position they’ve ever been in?”
Kennett: “Your interpretation is incorrect. Your facts are right. We had hoped that Clarko would coach next year, he decided not to and because he’d been with us for 17 years and won us four premierships we agreed to pay him for one year’s salary.”
“The fact that the club is in such a strong position, we can afford to do that and this year we are still going to record a small surplus on our football operations, which after two years of COVID is a pretty good place to be. You’re right in terms of the facts, but your interpretation is wrong.
“As you know in the emotional world of football, when you make the decision as we have about our coaching future, it is an emotional issue and I understand that, but leadership is about making the right decisions at the right time. We needed a change, Clarko needed a change and we have affected that.
“That’s led to a response, which I totally understand, but it was the correct decision and in Sam Mitchell we have a wonderfully prepared and experienced individual.
Cornes: “If you found the right successor before Round 1, is there a chance you could be out of the chair before Round 1?”
Kennett: “Dear oh dear, you are getting excited. Certainly not. The committee will be established after our AGM. I’d imagine we’d identify people on the current board that want to succeed me then they might look outside for people who might offer themselves … we’ll set them a target of reporting back by June 30th so there’s no hurry whatsoever.”
Cornes: “So there’s no timeframe on you leaving?”
Kennett: “There is a timeframe, I’ve got to go constitutionally at the end of 2023. I was elected for a three-year term. I’m one year into it, but I have said that right now the club is in a very strong position, I have gone on for one more term than I anticipated because I was asked to do so, but because the club is in such a good position, I am confident we can start the transition period. It’ll be sometime after (June 30th) and the end of my constitution.”
Cornes: “So you could potentially go until the end of 2023?”
Kennett: “Without a doubt, but I hope that’s not the case. I never intended to come back as president when I came back four years ago because of issues facing the club at the time. I did my three years, COVID came into play … the club has got through that period in a very strong position, and I think the time is right for me to go on and do other things.”
Cornes: “We can disagree … you have been on top and the envy of the whole competition, but I disagree that you’re on top.”
Kennett: “We’re not on top of the ladder, but we’re on top in everything else in terms of financial position, we’re on top of our sponsors, we’re on top of our membership, we’re on top of Dingley. We’ve got so many things going on at Hawthorn. I know you’re now a journalist, you like to throw pebbles into the sea.”
Cornes: “I’m just speaking with some honesty.”
Kennett: “It’s a great club mate.”
Cornes: “No doubt it’s a great club, but you’ve had significant issues.”
Kennett: “This is all just part of a good planned transition.”
A spokesperson from the Hawks for Change released the following statement in response to Kennett’s letter to members:
"Hawks for Change notes the comments of current President Jeff Kennett. We at Hawks for Change have undertakings that 30 June 2022 is the final date for the nominations committee to report, and the board will promptly act on that recommendation. It is our expectation that Jeff Kennett and the board will honour those undertakings."