JIM Jefferies' reign as Kilmarnock manager had a turbulent end, in which his disagreements with club chairman Michael Johnston were increasingly played out in public. Once the dust has settled on his departure, however, his eight years at Rugby Park will come to be seen as relatively tranquil and successful.
The crisis which culminated last night was neither the first time Jefferies had been at the end of his tether in his post, nor perhaps the only occasion on which the Kilmarnock board had contemplated calling a halt to his time in charge. In a profession where a short run of defeats can threaten a manager in his post no matter how well he has done in a score or more of games beforehand, anyone who has held office for as long as he did will be subject to speculation about their longevity. Football is a publicity-seeking, novelty-obsessed business, and some people are ever willing to suggest that anyone who has been around for more than a couple of seasons must be stale and in need of being replaced.
In the past, however, when things were threatening to go awry at Kilmarnock, they tended to be righted pretty quickly on the field of play. And, when results continued to be poor for any length of time, Jefferies could point to his meagre transfer budget, and at times a horrendous injury list, as mitigating circumstances.
This time, too, with Kilmarnock close to the bottom of the SPL, similar problems have contributed. But, with no improvement in sight, and employees on the one hand – Jefferies and assistant manager Billy Brown – and employer on the other having apparently lost trust in each other's ability, a parting of the ways appeared the only solution, and for once a claim that such a decision was taken "by mutual consent" sounds credible.
The Ayrshire club was certainly a far more harmonious place following Jefferies' takeover in February 2002. He quickly made an impact, taking Kilmarnock to fourth in his first full season with them. Two more top-six finishes were to come, and he also guided them to the 2007 final of the CIS Cup, although the kudos he accrued in so doing was tarnished to an extent by the 5-1 defeat inflicted on them at Hampden by Hibernian. In retrospect, though, reaching that final can be regarded as the high-water mark of Jefferies' time at Rugby Park. The following season Kilmarnock finished second bottom, and although they improved to eighth last year thanks in part to the signing of Kevin Kyle, the lack of resources was beginning to take its toll. Every time he was questioned about vacancies elsewhere in Scottish football – back at his old club Hearts, for example – Jefferies played it by the book, insisting he was committed to his current job. Behind the scenes, though, the recent talk was that he and Brown would welcome new surroundings.
It remains to be seen how quickly, now they are available for work, they will find a new club. Jefferies said last night he hoped that would be as soon as possible, and with Dundee United and Motherwell both seeking a new manager, he may get his wish.
At 59 he is approaching the veteran stage, and might not appeal to a club in search of radical innovation or a long-term overhaul.
Having been a manager since taking charge at Gala Fairydean in 1983, Jefferies has that experience in abundance. He also has an impressive track record when it comes to achieving success on a tight budget – a quality which would recommend him to most clubs in Scotland.
He took Berwick Rangers on a record unbeaten run in the late 1980s, for instance. In the first half of the next decade he took Falkirk to promotion as First Division champions, repeated the feat after they were relegated, and also won the Challenge Cup. The biggest success of his career, however, and the one which gave him the greatest pleasure, came in 1998, when he won the Scottish Cup as manager of Hearts, the team for which he had turned out for all but two years of his playing days.
Having graduated from non-league to the top flight, the next step for him was England, but he could not save Bradford City from relegation in 2000-01 and lost his job after showing no sign of being able to help them bounce back. That relative failure, however, is put into perspective by the fact that Bradford are further away now from a return to the English Premier League than they were when they parted company with Jefferies at the end of 2001, just a couple of months before he returned to the Scottish game with Kilmarnock.
1950: Jim Jefferies born 22 November in Musselburgh, East Lothian.
1967: Signed by Hearts.
1976: Plays in the Hearts side that loses 3-1 to Rangers in the Scottish Cup final.
1981: Signed by Berwick Rangers, having made 227 appearances and scored five goals for Hearts.
1983: Playing career comes to an end and he takes over as the manager at Gala Fairydean.
1988: Senior managerial career begins at Berwick Rangers, who he guides to a club record 21-game unbeaten run during the 1988-89 season despite severe financial troubles.
1990: Takes over at Falkirk.
1991: Wins Scottish First Division title.
1993: Wins Scottish Challenge Cup.
1994: Guides Falkirk to a second First Division title and promotion to the SPL.
1995: Returns to Hearts as manager.
1998: Wins the Scottish Cup with victory over Rangers at Celtic Park.
2000: Joins then Premier League side Bradford but is unable to save them from relegation.
2001: Sacked by Bradford in the December after a poor start to the season ends promotion hopes.
2002: Returns to Scotland to take over as Kilmarnock manager on 28 February.
2006: Kilmarnock finish fifth in the SPL, despite selling star striker Kris Boyd to Rangers in January.
2007: Kilmarnock reach the final of the Scottish League Cup, but they lose 5-1 to Hibernian. Finish fifth again in the SPL.
2010: After finishing 11th and eighth in two previous seasons, Kilmarnock struggle again in the SPL, and the club announce Jefferies' exit by "mutual consent".