HAWTHORN coach-in-waiting Sam Mitchell insists he never declared a desire to replace Alastair Clarkson in 2022 at a club meeting last week but concedes their looming succession plan remains a work in progress.
Reports this week suggested Mitchell made it known at a session with Clarkson, head of football Rob McCartney and leadership guru Ray McLean last Tuesday that he wanted the legendary coach to depart a year early.
However, Mitchell dismissed the claims when speaking on Tuesday, suggesting that his handover from Clarkson ahead of 2023 remained firmly on track.
"Absolutely not. That has not happened," Mitchell told SEN on Tuesday of the claims he wanted Clarkson gone.
"Everyone talks about that meeting like it was a one-off or the only time we've ever met. I heard some of the media reports talking about it and it's like, if you're in an organisation like Hawthorn, you are going to have all of these discussions all of the time and if you all agree on everything, then what's the point having so many people doing it?
"Everything we are working towards is Clarko coaching next year and me maintaining the role (coaching Box Hill in the VFL) which I love working with these young fellas and watching them progress."
"I said I've built such a strong relationship and it's been the plan for such a long period of time and now it's coming around. For me, I'm a little bit bemused by the whole situation. I've been working with Clarko for the best part of 20 years consistently, but apparently we still don't get along."
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Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett revealed last month that Collingwood's decision to move on coach Nathan Buckley, coupled with Clarkson's desire to ascertain his future, accelerated the Hawks' process to make a call on their incumbent with the Pies strongly considering Mitchell for its own vacancy.
Coming to the realisation that Clarkson wasn't the right fit for their future, Kennett and his Hawks board drew up a succession plan that would see Clarkson remain coach for 2022 on his contract worth around $1million before Mitchell stepped into the role for 2023.
Mitchell moved to reject claims that he was working behind the scenes to remove Clarkson, his four-time premiership coach, from his post.
"I must admit, I get a bit pissed off with people saying that," Mitchell said.
"I've worked with Clarko for nearly 20 years and the fact that people are trying to say I pushed him out is disrespectful to both of us because we've had a working relationship for such a long time.
"I get frustrated with people saying, 'He's just trying to get Clarkson out'. If I wanted to coach next year, I would've continued to pursue the Collingwood opportunity if it went that way."
On the same day the coaching succession plan was announced, it emerged Clarkson and Mitchell had held only one 20-minute conversation on how it would work.
Mitchell acknowledged the pair would need several meetings in coming months to thrash out their plans.
"We don't have the answers right now about how that works but we are absolutely planning every aspect of what we're doing right now to work out how we can," Mitchell said.
"Everything's a little bit grey. So, recruiting for instance, will be mainly my area and Clarko would be involved and the gameplan is mainly Clarko's area and I would be a little bit involved.
"We're just working on all these little details and that's part of what a good organisation does, you have to plan for the future."
Clarkson has consistently stated that he will see out the final year of his contract amid expected interest from rival clubs for 2022.