ALASTAIR Clarkson has started his sabbatical from coaching and Sam Mitchell has landed in the Hawthorn hot seat a year earlier than initially planned.
Here are Mitchell's first eight agenda items ahead of day one of pre-season on November 22.
1. Work out exactly how long the rebuild is planned for
President Jeff Kennett delivered two different timelines in the space of two months this year. Firstly, in May, he declared the Hawks wanted to be in contention by 2023. Then in July, Kennett was talking five years when outlining the Clarkson-Mitchell succession plan that no longer exists. After a seven-win campaign the Hawks clearly have a long way to go but having the administration aligned with the thinking of the football department will be critical for future planning. From there Mitchell needs to buy into messaging so the members can be sold the vision and go along for the ride.
2. Determine who's on the trade table
Landing on the timeline for the rebuild will allow the Hawks to decide who should and shouldn't be part of their next frontier. Right now they hold selections 5, 21 and 24 inside the top 50 of this year's NAB AFL Draft. The salary cap won't be an issue after the premature departures of Jon Patton and Tom Scully, but do they need more picks to continue the aggressive approach? Rumblings about contracted 29-year-old Jack Gunston won't go away and a departure could provide another valuable pick. With James Worpel about to hit his peak and a clear investment in Jai Newcombe, can they fit in the same midfield with Tom Mitchell, Jaeger O'Meara and Liam Shiels, or should one be put up for trade? Sam Mitchell has spoken about his desire to be hands on with list management. Here's his chance.
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3. Convince the senior players this is the way forward
Chad Wingard, Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O'Meara all moved to Waverley Park to chase a flag under Clarkson. That opportunity no longer exists and the pursuit of success has never been further away. Now Sam Mitchell needs to roll up his sleeves to make his own relationships with those players. On his way out, Clarkson admitted captain Ben McEvoy was a major driver in the decision to kybosh the succession plan given he felt it was going to be too hard to operate with two voices. Then there's Mitchell's need to establish the coach-player relationship with premiership teammates Jack Gunston, Liam Shiels and Luke Breust. Nathan Buckley took some time to land on the same page with his former teammates and some including Heath Shaw, Dale Thomas and Sharrod Wellingham moved to other clubs. Mitchell can't afford the same.
4. Nail the right captaincy call
Ben McEvoy was handed the reins for 2021 and holds a contract for next year. So do the Hawks provide some stability and continue with the 32-year-old or look to make a fresh call for the long-term? Tom Mitchell, Jack Gunston, Liam Shiels and Jaeger O'Meara were all up for selection when the playing group last voted but were overlooked. They'll need to decide if they are in the frame again or go along a different path for someone like James Sicily. It looms as a decisive call to help Mitchell lead the Hawks' next wave.
5. Finalise his panel of assistants
Mitchell's own elevation to the senior job has left a vacancy in the head of development/Box Hill VFL coaching role. It appears a key appointment and one that will be sought after given the last two AFL senior coaches (Mitchell and Craig McRae) were appointed having led their own teams. Premiership Hawk and current Fremantle forwards coach David Hale is looking for greater responsibility and has been linked to the role. Assistant Chris Newman has extended, and Adrian Hickmott has already joined with the Hawks acknowledging they'll take one extra assistant on their panel into 2022. McRae's defection to Collingwood leaves an opening, while contracted midfield coach Brendon Bolton is assessing his future and is open to a move to the Pies. West Coast's Jaymie Graham is leaving and could be an option given his links to Mitchell from their time together at the Eagles. Or could they look to elevate development coach Andy Otten?
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6. Stamp his own gameplan
Behind the scenes, players on the fringe between AFL and VFL selection earlier this year spoke about a different system being used at both levels. Now Mitchell needs to ensure everyone is aligned in the way forward. What parts of Clarkson's gameplan does he want to retain and what parts will he introduce himself? It presents as a big summer of teaching when the first-to-fourth-year players return on November 22 and everyone else follows from December 6.
7. The Sicily call
James Sicily returns after a 12-month ACL layoff as one of the Hawks' most important players. But is he more valuable in attack or defence for round one, 2022? The Hawks are well-stocked for defenders with Jack Scrimshaw, Jarman Impey, Will Day, Changkuoth Jiath, Blake Hardwick and Lachie Bramble all vying for spots next season, plus key backs Denver Grainger-Barras, Sam Frost and Kyle Hartigan. And then there's Tim O'Brien who is still up for grabs as an unrestricted free agent. Ten or 11 players can't go into seven spots. Sicily could slot in there and add to a superb depth of options or return to his roots as a forward where things are a little less certain. It's something for Mitchell to ponder.
8. Deciding on the best ruck mix
Ben McEvoy was moved to defence in 2020 in order to prolong his career and open up opportunities for Jon Ceglar in the ruck. However, this year McEvoy played more minutes in the ruck as they often went with two big men. That was under Clarkson, so what will Mitchell decide? When he maps out his plans for 2022 the first-year coach will clearly need to decide what's the best structure going forward and how that incorporates McEvoy, Ceglar and developing beanpole Ned Reeves. Three can't go into two… or one.