THERE have been times over the past two years when Ally McCoist might have been well served by taking a leaf out of his mentor Walter Smith’s “guide to dealing with the media” playbook.
In times of difficulty or controversy, Smith was adept at putting up an impenetrable wall at press conferences which ensured he did not stray into the realms of saying anything he might later regret, or which could be used as a stick with which to beat him.
Since succeeding Smith as Rangers manager, of course, McCoist has had to face a set of cataclysmic circumstances at the club which none of his predecessors in the role could have imagined having to deal with.
But there have been occasions when McCoist has almost been a victim of his own instinctive good nature, of the open and engaging personality which has been a trademark of his career.
In being consistently willing to publicly address the myriad issues which have enveloped Ibrox since the descent into administration and liquidation, McCoist has found himself in territory where his comments have seen him variously accused of playing to the gallery or sending mixed messages about the merits or otherwise of the procession of chairmen, chief executives and other principal players in the wretched Rangers saga.
Yesterday at Murray Park, however, McCoist was not about to leave himself open to any such charges. This was a day when he was treading a press conference high wire without a safety net and he was determined not to put a foot wrong.
The events of the previous few days, with former Rangers director Dave King aligning himself with the Union of Fans supporter group coalition in attacking the business strategy of the current Ibrox board and calling for season-ticket money to be withheld, left McCoist with precious little wriggle room.
A long-standing friend of King and the public champion of the Rangers support since the club’s financial collapse, McCoist has been trying to establish a positive working relationship with chief executive Graham Wallace since he was appointed three months ago. This is one battle in the Rangers civil war where the manager simply cannot afford to take sides.
“I think everyone can probably understand and appreciate my need for silence on this whole thing,” said McCoist.
“I have been pretty open in terms of discussing everything, really. But I think at this particular time I just need to take a step back and let the fans know that the footballing side of things is, hopefully, in good hands with the staff and the players.
“The fans have always supported the club. They’ve been great and they will continue to do that, I would think. I’m not concerned about anything, really. I’m certainly not going to comment on what’s happened this week.
“My only concern, and major concern, over the next 24 hours is going to East Fife on Saturday and getting a result.
“What will be will be. The best thing we can do is get the fans three points tomorrow. The fans want to see the team winning and progressing. They want to see the team go back up the leagues.
“It might seem a small thing to outsiders, but it’s the one thing we can have a big bearing on. That’s what we are here to do.
“I’m the football manager and all I want to do is talk about football. I haven’t had the opportunity to do that in the last two years. So I have made a conscious decision that I’m just going to talk about football.
“It’s easy to separate the football from the other stuff, because that’s my job. For one reason or another, I’ve had to deal with the other side of things. But the football side is my job and what I get paid for.
“The staff are really fortunate to have a great set of professionals who are 100 per cent focused on the football side of things, when it would be understandable to look at outside factors which are not ideal at the club.
“But we have a great set of older pros and a mature set of younger boys. It seems to me they don’t let anything get in the way of them concentrating on their football, which is fantastic. I’m very confident the players will handle any outside factors for the rest of the season.”
McCoist spent yesterday morning in his latest meeting with Wallace as the chief executive continues his 120-day review of the club’s business operations. The main priorities for McCoist remain a restoration of Rangers’ scouting network to pre-administration levels and clarity on the resources he will have to structure a playing squad for next season’s Championship campaign and beyond.
On both counts, McCoist is clear in his view that Rangers are currently not sufficiently prepared to ensure they complete a direct journey back to the top flight of Scottish football in 2015.
“Like everything else, the scouting situation has been put on hold until the business side of the club has been looked at,” he added. “So I can understand that. It’s not ideal, but I can understand it.
“The fact of the matter is we have always had a scouting system. What’s happening at the moment is we are getting games covered, in terms of watching future opposition, but that’s all we’ve got.
“Before, we would have had four guys down at games in England, maybe other guys in Europe watching games, which is the norm for a top club. We don’t have that at the moment. Effectively the scouting system is just about at rock bottom.
“Graham knows the concerns we all have for the scouting system and how important it is at this particular time. It’s arguably the most important time in the club’s history for the scouting system to be at its best.
“We’ve got to strengthen to continue the building process. I don’t want to start the build by losing people who are out of contract this summer, rather than getting people in.
“I think the Championship is a lot stronger than a lot of people think. The majority, if not all, of the teams are full-time. We’ve played Falkirk this year which was a tough game albeit I thought we deserved to beat them in the Scottish Cup.
“I’ve seen a lot of Championship football and I’ve been impressed with the likes of Dundee, Dumbarton and Raith Rovers. All being well, we will be in there next season.
“I wouldn’t like to go into it as we are right now. I’d far rather be in a position to strengthen to move forward, not just for next season but for the longer term as well.
“Without strengthening ahead of next season there would be no guarantees (of winning the Championship). It would be very tough.
“But Graham and the board share my concern because they want to continue improvement and continue the success on the park and get us right back.”