There are fresh doubts over whether Hawthorn’s famed coaching succession plan will indeed materialise next season after Sam Mitchell reportedly indicated his desire to have “clean air” in 2022 in a mediation session with Alastair Clarkson.
While Mitchell and Clarkson have put on a united front in public after the announcement of the succession plan, people who understand the pair have warned that they could clash due to their similarities.
According to veteran AFL reporter Caroline Wilson, the club held a “mediation session” between the two in an attempt to get the pair on the same page last week after a 62-point loss against Fremantle in Round 17, Hawthorn’s first match since the succession plan was announced.
“I’m told that during that meeting it became clear that Sam Mitchell would rather have clean air to have a fresh start next year without Alastair Clarkson by his side,” Wilson told Nine’s Footy Classified.
“When this meeting took place, mind you this happened after a pretty flattening loss, I think Alastair sort of went along with this according to some sources at the Hawthorn Football Club.
“Those at the meeting felt that Sam Mitchell made it clear that he wanted to be the coach next year and he would prefer to be there without Alastair Clarkson.”
Clarkson and Mitchell are understood to have been joined in the meeting by Hawthorn Head of Football, Rob McCartney and Ray McLean, who is the boss of Leading Teams, a company which specialises in culture change, leadership and team development programs.
“Depending on who you talk to there are several versions of why this meeting was held,” Wilson added.
“There is a version which says that there was concern that Alastair had gone into his shell to a degree, was not coping with the announcement, and was not necessarily happy about working with Sam.
“There’s another version which says they just needed to sort things out and perhaps Sam wasn’t particularly happy.”
After guiding an undermanned Hawthorn side to a draw against ladder-leaders Melbourne in Round 18, Wilson says Clarkson is now prepared to “dig in” to lead the club in 2022, despite Mitchell’s wishes to ascend to the senior coaching role sooner than planned.
“The feeling is from the players that Alastair has never been more engaged this year than he was after [the draw against Melbourne],” she said.
“He is now digging in and he’s not prepared to leave despite Sam’s wishes.”
Wilson also suggested that the announcement of the coaching succession plan had “disappointed and blindsided” Hawthorn’s senior players, who remain fond of Clarkson.
Despite rumours of discontent, Hawthorn CEO Justin Reeves denied that there was any drama between Clarkson and Mitchell, telling Footy Classified that “they’re actually working together better than we expected”.
While Clarkson has been linked to both Carlton and Collingwood throughout the year, Wilson believes the four-time premiership winner has weighed up the proposition of taking a sabbatical next year if he is to leave Hawthorn.
“If he doesn’t coach, he doesn’t get paid, and he’s got a contract,” she said.
“I personally believe that if [Hawthorn president] Jeff Kennett had his way and if it wasn’t going to cost him a million dollars, Sam Mitchell would be the senior coach of the Hawthorn Football Club next year.
“My view is it’s a mess and I don’t think it was a good idea.”