JACK Ross, the new manager of Alloa Athletic, has made a career out of bouncing back. Released by Dundee at the start of his career, he vented his frustration in a positive way at junior level and soon made it back to the senior game.
But he admits to being left slightly shaken by the manner and suddenness of his exit from Hearts in mid-October. “Bruised” is the word he used to describe how he felt when he departed Tynecastle after little over a year as under-20s coach, a role he combined with first-team responsibilities as one of head coach Robbie Neilson’s assistants.
Sometimes opinions go for you, sometimes they go against you and if you accept that is part of the job then you are going to get bruised a little bitJack Ross
These duties were terminated just over two months ago. First it was revealed he was taking some time out from the club to “consider” his future and then an announcement from Hearts confirmed Ross had left, by mutual consent. The Tynecastle side had recently endured a mini-slump of three successive defeats. Nevertheless, the news was greeted with surprise by most.
“It was…. different,” said Ross, choosing his words carefully by the side of the pitch at the Indodrill Stadium, his new base of operations after yesterday’s appointment.
“If you believe you are doing your job properly and well then in the fullness of time you will be OK,” he added. “I have always backed myself to work, not necessarily in football. I have never felt as though the game owes me a living. I have been hugely fortunate to have a career in it, and without being a superstar I have done OK. You accept [blows] as part of life. I had enough faith in myself.”
Ross has barely had time to fret about getting back into the game. He kept in touch with football, attending matches as “an observer”. “I had a little period where I thought: ‘I am not going to bother’,” he explained. “But friends in the game advised treating it almost like a period of CPD [continued professional development].
“I did that across every league – I didn’t go to Premier League games, as I had seen a lot of those this season. It was unusual for me and certainly not as enjoyable. I was not even going as a fan, but just an observer. It just made me hungrier to try and get involved sooner rather than later.”
Having signed a contract with Alloa that runs initially until next summer, Ross is grateful to be back in the cut and thrust. He knows the Championship well, having assisted great friend Ian Murray at Dumbarton and then been involved with Hearts’ title success last season.
Now someone who turns 40 later this year is relishing the thought of being his own man, at a place that has form for shaping young managers.
His first match is against St Mirren, the club Murray recently departed after a string of bad results left the Paisley side just four points above bottom place Alloa, who re-discovered the art of winning against Livingston on Saturday.
“Obviously I would have liked it if Ian [Murray ] had been in the opposition dugout because he’s a close friend of mine and I’m disappointed for him,” said Ross.
“I’m just desperate to win the game regardless.” He wouldn’t be human if unable to draw on some form of ‘I will show you’ incentive after his experiences at Hearts. Ross concedes he is desperate to succeed. But he isn’t motivated by bitterness.
“I quite like proving people wrong, I don’t mean that in a sensational way,” he said. “I just think some people go through football and everything falls into place for various reasons. Others have to find different paths and I have had to do that in terms of my own career, going back to junior football, going back to senior football, back to full-time and so on.
“[My time at Hearts] helped me as a coach and I was surprised at how big a club it was,” he added. “I did not fully comprehend the size of the club until I was in working there. They are now where they should be in Scottish football, a really big club with an incredible fan base and really good people running the club.
“When you work in professional football you have to acknowledge the game is always about professional opinions whether you are a player, manager or coach. Sometimes those opinions go for you, sometimes they go against you and if you accept that is part of the job then you are going to get bruised a little bit.
“But you dust yourself down and try and look for the next challenge. If you don’t want that challenge, you look for another career.”
It seems natural to wonder whether relations with key personnel at Tynecastle are still sufficiently intact for Ross to make the most of his knowledge of the club’s young talent in the form of loan deals, with the transfer window set to open again imminently.
“Possibly,” said Ross. “I know those young players better than the ones at other clubs but I have seen a lot of the other ones at Development games in recent times.
“I am quite familiar with a lot of young players and there are three lads here at the moment, Robbie Crawford, Michael Duffy and Connor McManus, from Rangers and Celtic, so I think it is a market clubs need to use.
“I am fortunate that through my career I have fostered decent relationships hopefully with a number of people at different levels in management and coaching. Hopefully that will prove advantageous to me.”