Mitchell, the former coach of the All Blacks and Perth-based SuperRugby team the Western Force, will now face a disciplinary inquiry by the board of the Johannesburg-based franchise.
“John Mitchell has been suspended pending an investigation, after complaints from the players,” De Klerk confirmed to Reuters on Saturday.
“The complaints of the players are quite serious and it’s not just from one or two players, it’s a very substantial number which we cannot take lightly. As the custodians of Gauteng rugby, we are responsible to our staff and the well-being of our players.”
While De Klerk, a former Springbok lock, said he could not elaborate on the complaints due to the sub-judice nature of the investigation, they are believed to revolve around Mitchell’s management style.
The New Zealander has had a simmering relationship with media and sponsors, and local newspapers have reported anonymous players alleging verbal abuse by Mitchell. The 48-year-old has also publicly criticised individual players.
Mitchell joined the Lions in mid-2010 and steered them to the Currie Cup title last year, but their SuperRugby form has been poor with the Lions being South Africa’s worst-performing franchise over the last two years and set to be replaced by the Southern Kings next year.
Assistant coaches Carlos Spencer and Johan Ackermann will now take over the coaching reins as the Lions return to SuperRugby action next weekend.