North Melbourne believe Clarkson will return as coach
North Melbourne believe Alastair Clarkson will return to the club this year, but will give the veteran coach as much time as he needs to deal with his declining mental health.
A week after describing the ongoing investigation into racism claims during his time at Hawthorn as "shameful", the strain has become too much for Clarkson.
He and his wife Caryn met with North football boss Todd Viney and chief executive Jennifer Watt on Wednesday night to inform them of the decision to stand aside indefinitely.
Former Carlton and St Kilda coach Brett Ratten will take charge of the struggling Kangaroos in Clarkson's absence.
Viney said it was "a possibility" that Clarkson could be lost to the game, but believed his long-time friend and colleague would be back.
"There was no indication in any of the conversations (on Wednesday) that that was the end of Alastair Clarkson," Viney said at Arden St on Thursday.
"We feel really confident that he just needs some time to heal and he'll be back to take control of the club again and help us get back to contending for silverware.
"It's our firm belief that he will be back this year, but if you ask him, and if you ask us, we can't tell you if that's one week or six weeks, so we'll take that as it comes."
Clarkson was told by Viney to "burn his phone" to help remove himself from the scrutiny and pressure of the situation.
"Not having a voice for that period of time has really weighed him down in the mental space," Viney said.
"He's bravely fought on through this period, and the players really wouldn't have been able to tell how much pressure he was under because he's done an amazing job.
"But when he leaves his workplace and he goes home, then he's dealing with the constant unknown around this investigation.
"We don't want him to wear a mask, we don't want him to be in a poor mental state."
Four-time Hawthorn premiership coach Clarkson, his then assistant and now Brisbane Lions head coach Chris Fagan, and ex-Hawk player welfare manager Jason Burt have been named in allegations of racism during their time at the club.
All deny any wrongdoing.
Before Clarkson's decision was made public, Fagan on Thursday reiterated his innocence, telling reporters he was "not guilty of racism or cultural insensitivity".
The AFL formed an independent investigation into the claims eight months ago, but it has yet to interview Clarkson, Fagan or Burt.
Outgoing AFL boss Gillon McLachlan initially hoped the independent investigation would report findings last December, but now says there is no set time frame.
McLachlan on Thursday supported Clarkson's decision to look after his health.
"We understand how much the investigation by the independent panel into allegations of racism has impacted on all people involved, including Alastair, and believe the investigation needs to find resolution," he said.
"It is a heavy burden being carried by all parties involved, and the wellbeing of everyone who is a part of this process is the key priority for our game.
"The AFL supports current efforts to find a mediated outcome that provides fairness and natural justice for all involved, and encourage all parties to work towards a timely and just outcome."
Fagan later on Thursday released a statement through his manager saying he was "saddened" by the decline in Clarkson's health.
"The deeply flawed process that we have been subjected to has taken a heavy toll," he said.
"It has been profoundly damaging and unfair.
"It is my hope that it will very soon come to an appropriate end."
Clarkson last Thursday unloaded on Hawthorn, the AFL and the investigation panel, saying all parties had been "shamed" by the process.
The 55-year-old, who coached Hawthorn for 17 seasons and is arguably the Hawks' greatest coach, called for an investigation into the club's practices
AFL Coaches Association boss Alistair Nicholson said the entire organisation was thinking of Clarkson and urged for the process to be sped up.
"Today's announcement underscores the importance of expediting the investigation into the Hawthorn issue for all parties involved," Nicholson said.
"It has taken too long and is taking a significant toll on those at the centre of the issue."