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Clarkson calls for 'baby steps' on new deal

Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson - AFL,Hawthorn Hawks,Alastair Clarkson,Jeff Kennett
Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson
I welcome the endorsement from him that he thinks I'm the person to lead the club, but I think we have to move with baby steps over the next 12 months to two years
Alastair Clarkson

HAWTHORN coach Alastair Clarkson is pleased to have won the support of club president Jeff Kennett for a contract extension, but it is far from certain that he will continue as coach past the end of 2019.

Kennett told last month that if on-field results trend the right way, "I hope he stays longer."

But in an exclusive interview, Clarkson said it would likely be the middle of 2019 before there is clarity about his long-term coaching plans.

"I welcome the endorsement from him that he thinks I'm the person to lead the club, but I think we have to move with baby steps over the next 12 months to two years," he said.

Clarkson, with the 2008 and 2013-15 premierships to his name, is the most successful coach in Hawthorn's history and the best coach of the modern era.

More recently, he has provided the one aspect of stability at Hawthorn at a time when there has been a large turnover of board members, senior management, coaching staff and senior players.

"All the key pillars have changed for all sorts of reasons, but the next 12 months to two years is pivotal to see whether I've still got the passion and desire to drive this group and whether the new group of players coming through is going to respond to that coaching.

"I think we need to take every bit of the next two years as a club to decide where we want to go and what we want to do."

Clarkson and the Hawks already have established the template for what will surely be delicate but frank discussions.

In the last two years, the Hawks have moved club champions Sam Mitchell, Jordan Lewis and Luke Hodge out of the club and into the next phase of their careers, with no trace of bitterness or rancor from either the players or the club.

The two-way conversations that took place between the club and the players ensured there was a level of comfort right through to the end.

"What we are really pleased about is that we gave them an opportunity to contribute to the decision and the timing. For Sam and Jordan that discussion meant exploring what it would look like at another club," Clarkson said.

"That was tough for them, tough for me, but at the end of the day they were each able to create an opportunity that was longer and more stable than what Hawthorn could offer them.

"I sit here and so does the club, pretty comfortable that they were able to have a voice in what was a really, really difficult transition."

And the same philosophy will govern his discussions with the club and will make it different to, say, events at Collingwood last year when coach Nathan Buckley's future was up for discussion, or the contract discussions around superstars such as Lance Franklin, Patrick Dangerfield and Dustin Martin in recent years.

"The bizarre part about this one, and I don't mean this in an egotistical sense, is that I'll be as much a part of the discussion and the outcome as the club will be," Clarkson said.

"Usually it's very club dominated – are you going to sign him or not – or the coach is just hoping he'll be re-signed, but that's not the case with me."

Clarkson, who turns 50 in April, has been at the helm of the Hawks since 2005.

When his contract expires at the end of next season, he will have coached the club for 15 years and given his extensive study of elite sport the world over, and in particularly coaching and management, he is acutely aware that every coach has a shelf-life, and that his might be imminent. 

"I'm not sure what that is," Clarkson said.

"As long as my passion is there and the players and the club are responding to that, I'll continue on, but if I feel that for whatever reason the message isn't getting through, I've had an enormous opportunity to coach this club and as has been the case with all those who have served our club, I'll pass the baton.

"Will that be after my 15th year, or will I continue longer? That's a discussion we will share together rather than one of us having the whip hand.

"That's what makes it unique and pleasing because we can sit down and have those chats about what's best for the footy club."