Calling Alastair Clarkson the best coach of any sport in the country, Hawthorn chairman Jeff Kennett says he hopes that the four-time premiership coach re-signs with the Hawks after his deal expires at the end of 2019.
Kennett, who had a sometimes stormy relationship with Clarkson, said while he believed that people in leadership roles should move on after a certain period, Clarkson’s ability to refresh and ‘‘reinvent himself’’ made him an exception.
Kennett revealed that when he told the coach of his wished for the Hawks to play finals, Clarkson told him he wanted to win the 2018 flag.
‘‘I’ve said to him, stupidly, around at my house where we were having a bottle of wine discussing things very early, I said, ‘Al Pal, I want to end up top eight this year’,’’ Kennett told The Age.
‘‘You thought I’d just dropped him. He looked at me with those steely eyes and said, ‘I want to win a premiership’. So he is focused.
‘‘That’s his goal. Here was I saying ‘top eight’, he’s saying that’s not good enough, you’ve got to do better than that.’’
Kennett, who has embarked on significant change at Hawthorn since returning as chairman, believes leaders should not stay too long in a role.
‘‘There’s always the exception to the rule in any situation and I always said to Alastair that seven-10 years is the length of service and then he should move on.
‘‘But Alastair reinvents himself. Alastair is head and shoulders above any other coach in the league and maybe any coach of any other sporting body in Australia. Why? Because every year, at the end of every season, he’s been going overseas. He goes and looks at other codes, he goes and looks at other facilities. He’s always learning like a good teacher.
‘‘Head and shoulders above everyone else in terms of his knowledge, in terms of his experience … at some stage Alastair might get bored … and we’ve discussed this, since he’s been back.
‘‘But right now he’s fired up. He’s two years to go on his contract. Right now, I hope he re-signs.’’
Asked to reiterate that he wanted to re-sign Clarkson, Kennett replied: ‘‘Absolutely, absolutely.’’
Kennett considered replacing Clarkson in 2006, when the coach was in his second season and far from the force in the game he became. Kennett also famously once suggested that Clarkson should be dropped to coach the reserves when the Hawks were having a lean patch.
Kennett said there was no way Clarkson — who raised the issue of whether he should leave with the club administration when the Hawks struggled early last year — would break his contract.
‘‘Yes, he’s told me he’s going to see it (through). I’m surprised you even ask that. You clearly don’t understand his values system.
‘‘Alastair will see out his contract, there’s no doubt about that. I hope he re-signs. He’s got two years to go and we’ll worry about that towards the end.’’
Kennett expressed confidence in Graham Wright, the former recruiting boss, as the new club head of football, but said Wright’s appointment was ‘‘not necessarily’’ to have a person with the stature to stand up to Clarkson.
‘‘There’s enough of us who can do that, have no fear,’’ he said. ‘‘He has no power, I can assure you of that. No one has any power. All anyone ever has is influence … this word power gives me the irrits.
‘‘Yes, Alastair is a very successful coach and he does have influence … but I’m not worried about anyone … – me, Alastair, Justin [Reeves, the CEO] – having undue influence, we work together as a team.’’
Kennett, asked whether the success Clarkson had enjoyed since 2013 would change their relationship, said: ‘‘Yeah, but he won them because we set it up for him. It was a team effort. Alastair on his own can’t win a premiership, Jeff Kennett on his own can’t … you need teams of people. The key to our success has been the professionalism of the organisation from top to bottom.
‘‘Will it be different? No. I’ve met with Alastair on a number of occasions since I’ve come back.’’
Kennett acknowledged ‘‘there will be times where we are combative’’ but said he and Clarkson had a good relationship.
‘‘I don’t want you to start writing that Alastair and I are getting on well,’’ he said in jest.