RAY McKinnon celebrated a century of games in charge of Brechin City last weekend in fine style as his men won 2-0 away to League 1 leaders Stranraer.
If the Glebe Park club decide to honour the 44-year-old’s reign, a fitting way could well be to play either The Gambler from Kenny Rogers or Frank Sinatra’s My Way.
McKinnon was appointed as Brechin manager in October 2012 after a playing career best remembered for two spells at Dundee United either side of stints at Nottingham Forest and Aberdeen. His management teeth were cut at junior side Lochee United, who held Ayr United to a draw in the Scottish Cup back in 2008, before McKinnon became a well-respected coach with the SFA.
He gave that position up to become Brechin’s boss and admits now that he took a chance. “I was working with the SFA on the coach education programme and I was enjoying it,” he explained. “I was coming to the end of my work towards my own pro-licence qualification when the opportunity arose at Brechin.
“It was a hard decision as I enjoyed my job and I was getting a good schooling from Donald Park and Jim Fleeting who were great to work with. The job with the SFA also had more security and was actually better paid so it was a bit of a gamble to come to Brechin.”
The stakes were increased as the club looked to be heading in only one direction. “They had lost five games in a row and had only six points on the board,” said McKinnon. “But we managed to turn things around and finished that season in the play-offs which was unbelievable. We lost out in the semi-finals to Alloa by one goal so it was a terrific effort.”
However, progress in his second season was hampered by the loss of key players for lengthy periods to injury.
“It was a frustrating time as we simply could not get our strongest side match-fit and we only showed what we could do fleetingly,” added McKinnon. “We had a pulsating game against Rangers when we were 3-1 up at Glebe Park only for them to score late on to win 4-3. That showed the capability we had when we had everyone fit. We actually ended seven points off the play-offs which, considering the injuries, was pretty good going.
“I learned a lot at that time as I was trying to get the best out of a small, injury-hit squad and trying to make best use of the loan market at the same time.”
With a 13-game unbeaten run under their belt in this campaign, another push for promotion is on. The gamble appears to have paid off for McKinnon.
“I am now the fourth longest-serving manager in Scotland which is pretty crazy,” said McKinnon. “And one of the reasons for that is that Brechin are a stable, well-run club. Michael O’Neill is a great example of what can happen by getting a grounding here. He was at Glebe Park for a couple of years and now he is managing Northern Ireland.
“Working in full-time football is my ultimate goal but there is no masterplan or set deadline. I want to do my best at Brechin and what will be, will be.”
McKinnon is determined to build on the foundations that he is putting in place just now by doing things his way despite having played under some of the biggest names in British football.
“I played for Jim McLean at United and Brian Clough at Forest before going to Aberdeen under Willie Miller,” said McKinnon. “And there was also Lennie Lawrence at Luton. Between them and the guys at the SFA I learned a lot.
“I know some people say you should take a bit of this and a bit of that from your managers but I don’t see it that way. You have to do things your own way as you have to be comfortable in your own skin.”
McKinnon’s single-minded approach is respected in the game as he explained: “As well as doing well results-wise, we have had players on loan from Aberdeen, Dundee and Rangers this season. That shows that Derek McInnes and Paul Hartley see Brechin as a good club for their players to develop at and Ally McCoist felt the same before he left Rangers.”
But will his approach bring promotion? “We are a strong side and can stay in the top four if we have everyone fit but it is difficult to predict this league,” he said. “The two full-time sides Morton and Dunfermline have strengthened in the transfer window and you have Stranraer, Forfar, Peterhead and Airdrie who can all still be involved in the promotion chase. To mark 100 games with a 2-0 win at the league leaders is good going and all I ask is that we finish as high up as we can.”