Rarely has there been a bigger shake-up to the coaching landscape.
The Hawks say they were forced to act after Collingwood parted ways with Nathan Buckley and soon approached Sam Mitchell.
Where will Alastair Clarkson’s footy journey take him next?Credit:Getty Images
But, in many ways, the decision to move on Alastair Clarkson and the way it has been done is astounding.
One of the greatest coaches of the modern era is being replaced, not now, but in 18 months.
It was earlier this season that I wrote about how there should have been no rush for Mitchell to take the reins at Hawthorn because of his lack of experience and the pressure of taking over from a legend. Think Voss-Matthews, Knights-Sheedy and Buckley-Malthouse.
Obviously, the Hawks hope Mitchell will get another 18 months learning on the job under “Clarko”, but, in reality, how likely is that to happen?
We saw at Collingwood the friction that divided Mick Malthouse and Nathan Buckley after the Magpies unveiled their succession plan. According to the Magpies initially everything was peachy, but if you listen to Mick, he was never happy with the decision.
While there are some key differences, given the Pies were right in the middle of a premiership window and the Hawks are now near the bottom, both Clarkson and Mitchell are still really headstrong guys.
How do they ultimately separate their two roles. and who do the players listen to and respond to?
John Worsfold and Ben Rutten last year.Credit:Getty Images
At Essendon recently, it seemed like John Worsfold and Ben Rutten worked well together, but we’ve found out since the mixed messaging from the coach and coach-in-waiting left players confused.
Clarko has been incredibly loyal after big offers from elsewhere, including North Melbourne, but surely any obligation to the Hawks is now gone. Jeff Kennett has already said if he wants to leave, he can.
It means there’ll be more than a few AFL coaches who are suddenly sleeping a little more uneasily.
Collingwood are already on the hunt for a new coach, Carlton are undergoing a review, and I think there would be at least three other clubs with coaches under contract who would be considering their options.
So, where does Clarko end up? As great as he has been, and as commanding his presence is as coach, I believe there are better fits than others.
Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett and coach Alastair Clarkson.Credit:Getty Images
As he knows, being a great coach doesn’t guarantee success in every situation. He’s proven to be an astute tactician and a great teacher, but when Clarko started at Hawthorn he rebuilt the club from the ground up. By going to the draft, he got to mould players like Mitchell, Luke Hodge, Buddy Franklin, Jarryd Roughead, Jordan Lewis and so on, into the footballers and people he wanted them to be.
Clarko has probably softened a little over the past 17 years, but he’s still regarded as a hard taskmaster. Young footballers, like young people across society, are very different now to what they were even a decade ago. If you try to inject Clarkson’s approach into a more established playing group at a different club, not everyone is guaranteed to take it well.
When Denis Pagan went to Carlton in the early 2000s, his hard-nosed nature rubbed a few players the wrong way, including Anthony Koutoufides who admits he and Denis didn’t see eye to eye. After their salary cap sanctions, the Blues obviously had plenty of issues to deal with, which didn’t help the situation, but to his detriment Denis spoke to those players like he’d speak to us at North Melbourne.
Because we’d grown up with him as coach through the under-19s and then the senior team, we were used to it. He was like a father figure to us – but not the Carlton boys.
Mick Malthouse – who I regard alongside Denis as the coach of the ’90s – had a similarly close relationship with his players at Collingwood but couldn’t replicate it when he went to Princes Park.
Pagan, Malthouse and Clarkson are all very different people, but could that history have an impact on the Blues’ thinking if their review decides there needs to be a coaching change?
You never want to see a coach lose his job, but the very fact there is a review means David Teague isn’t completely safe, especially now Clarko is gettable.
Could Clarkson be the man to finally get the best out of Paddy Dow and Sam Petrevski-Seton? Can he elevate a Harry McKay or Sam Walsh to even greater heights?
What about Collingwood? Can Clarko connect with Brodie Grundy or many of the Magpies’ more established players? Could he help Jordan De Goey reach his potential?
Then there’s the Suns with their host of top 10 draft picks. Are they the right demographic for a coach like him? They are the types of questions clubs should be asking themselves.
With his four flags, Clarko is already among the great coaches of the modern era. If he can win another one at a new club – particularly one starved of success – then he puts himself in a different conversation altogether. It’s going to be so intriguing to find out when and where that might happen.
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