Mitchell might not see rewards of Hawthorn rebuild, says Lewis

Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell had done the right thing by the Hawks in pushing through a list overhaul, but he may not survive to see the rewards, according to former teammate Jordan Lewis.

Lewis, a four-time premiership player, said history was against coaches being given time to see the fruits of a rebuild, and the Hawks were in for several years of pain.

He praised Mitchell’s refusal to play safe and protect his own job, instead prosecuting the list change the club needed.

Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell. Credit:Getty

Lewis backed Hawthorn’s aggressive list moves, which have seen them go very young and jettison older players like Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara, who left for very little in draft return or salary relief but formed part of a plan to expedite change. A Champion Data list analysis for The Age recently showed Hawthorn’s 2023 list is the youngest and least experienced in the league, with an average age of 22.8 years and an average of 41.5 games played.

“There’s not too many [who see the rebuild through to the rise up the ladder]. Damien Hardwick nearly lost his job before Richmond then became that real powerhouse. Alastair Clarkson was probably a tackle away from losing his job and Jeff Kennett was in the public saying he should be demoted to the Box Hill Hawks to coach,” Lewis said.

The final stage of the Hawthorn dynasty in 2015. Pictured from left: Shaun Burgoyne, Cyril Rioli, Jordan Lewis, Jarryd Roughead, Sam Mitchell, Grant Birchall, and Luke Hodge.Credit:Scott Barbour

“That’s the toughest thing and that’s why I really admire what Sam’s doing is because he understands the pain he will go through, and he might not see the rewards at the other end, but what he won’t be accused of is playing it safe, getting enough wins to hang around eighth to 10th and his job might be safe.

“He’s understanding where the club needs to go and how they need to do it. And I really admire that from a coach.”

Lewis said it was a rebuilding phase Hawthorn “should have gone to a couple of years ago so that’s just been delayed”.

“When you’re in a town where there’s multiple teams you don’t have that bargaining chip that Geelong has or that a Sydney might have,” he said.

“So, for me, the only way if you’re a Melbourne side to then regenerate and put yourself back up the ladder for a consistent period of time is to go to the draft. So, I think it’s the right move. Sometimes it’s hard to move players on, but they needed to create space for young kids to come in and give them opportunities to play.”

Lewis was at the launch of a program whereby retired stars will return to suburban and country football clubs to play games as fundraisers for the clubs.

He said his former coach Alastair Clarkson’s latest outburst at a reporter that prompted an apology from the now North Melbourne coach was just part of the ‘Clarkson package’, but trusted colleagues like Todd Viney and Brett Ratten at the Kangaroos would tell him when he needed to back off.

“I think he is aware of where he falls down in those areas. But a lot of the time he gets into trouble you can’t anticipate what’s going to happen and how he reacts to certain situations,” Lewis said.

“That is what North Melbourne [would love] and what we loved at Hawthorn is that he will go in to bat for his players every single time, so at least that is a consistent part of the way he has held himself. So, I think it is part of the package.

”It’s what we admire about him but sometimes he clearly lets himself down in some areas,” Lewis continued. “Todd and Ratts are certainly two people that understand when to push back and when to let him [Clarkson] have his way.”

Lewis, who was also part of the external review process at Essendon last year and then the coaching panel that appointed Brad Scott, said it was clear Scott was the right person to coach the Bombers.

“They needed someone with strong character and, in my opinion, needed someone with experience and Brad, for me, ticked those two boxes,” he said.

“Even when he entered the room to be interviewed you could just see there was a presence about him. And I think big clubs need that. Especially a club that we ask a lot of, but they haven’t necessarily delivered in recent times.”

He said Scott’s presentation demonstrated he understood the Bombers needed a better defensive system to allow them to attack.

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