Hawks make a mess of Clarkson’s departure

The unedifying and messy story of Alastair Clarkson’s last weeks at Hawthorn will become an almost forgotten footnote as the years unfold, the seasons roll on and just what this legendary coach achieved overcomes the turbulence of his departure.

But the context the Clarkson story deserves is not for the now. Today it is the ham-fisted duplicity of the Jeff Kennett-led club that demands scrutiny and potentially more. For it is Kennett and his lieutenant Justin Reeves who are responsible for the embarrassing charade they called a succession plan.

Four-time Hawthorn premiership coach Alastair Clarkson.Credit:AFL Photos

Unless Clarkson coaches next year it is a charade which will cost the Hawks and their bursting football soft cap close to $1 million over the next two years.

And it is a charade which was very quickly exposed when it became apparent that Clarkson and Sam Mitchell had significantly different philosophies regarding the game plan, list management and the procedural nature of the handover.

None of this should have been a surprise to Hawthorn’s board and football management but it was laid bare in the meeting mediated by Leading Teams’ Ray McLean two Tuesdays ago in which it became clear that the partnership was not going to work.

The alarm bells should have rung and probably did for Clarkson when the disconnections were reportedly thrashed out at a meeting of the football sub-committee – a meeting the coach did not attend even though he sits on the committee. It was at that meeting it became clear that Mitchell’s preference was to be the No. 1 decision-maker in 2022.

Jeff Kennett and Alastair Clarkson.Credit:Getty Images

The board and Reeves should have reached a termination agreement then and reportedly went down that road but for some reason changed their minds and pushed on, leaving Mitchell and Clarkson to face the music and give their unique respective version of events.

Kennett’s denials then now seem a little ridiculous given what he agreed to in a meeting with Clarkson’s management on Thursday. But then it was Kennett who said last year: “We won’t be sacking Alastair …” And who has disrespected both coaches with his teasing attempts to intrigue club members in his semi-regular newsletters.

It is true the senior players – confused and even upset after the initial succession plan announcement – forced another confrontation on Wednesday when the leadership group met Reeves and football director Richie Vandenberg and explained two bulls in the paddock could not work for them.

But it would be wrong to place blame for the failure of a plan – or even the identification of that failure – that was never seriously thought out or executed upon the players. Nor would it be fair to blame Clarkson or Mitchell. It is true that Clarkson has behaved a little fractiously in recent times and much will be made now of his heartfelt vow last week to complete his contract.

Ending the tenure of a legendary coach is never simple unless that coach is Leigh Matthews and Clarkson’s time might have been up at Hawthorn but this is a clear case of club bosses outsmarting themselves and damaging the club’s once-dignified, watertight image. Even the news of Clarkson’s departure, scheduled to be announced on Monday, leaked from the board.

Kennett is now a chairman in survival mode, a chairman who has signed up his chief executive for five years and who extended Clarkson’s contract until the end of 2022 with no caveats and allowed it to come to this.

Friday was a torrid day at the club and significantly it took until near twilight for all parties to agree on just how the inevitable was going to be announced and for Clarkson and Kennett to face the media. The coach not for the first time put on his best face and restored some dignity to the situation.

But for Kennett it is worth remembering his own words regarding his short-lived predecessor Richard Garvey when he rode back into the then-leaderless Hawks back in 2017. Kennett said then: “As testament to the values of Hawthorn as the family club, where no individual is bigger or more important than the club, president Richard Garvey has accepted personal responsibility for a board decision that unfortunately has not worked out as hoped …

“His decision and action is a noble act that he has made selflessly in the club’s best interest.″⁣

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