Lennon wanted me to take St Mirren job - Craig

Tommy Craig with assistants Gary Teale (left) and Jim Goodwin (right). Picture: SNS
Tommy Craig with assistants Gary Teale (left) and Jim Goodwin (right). Picture: SNS
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NEW St Mirren manager Tommy Craig claimed yesterday that he believed he was about to be dismissed when the club’s directors summoned him to a meeting on Monday.

Instead, the 63-year-old, one of the game’s great survivors, found himself promoted to the top job while his predecessor, Danny Lennon, was informed that his services were no longer required.

Previous managers who failed to survive working with Craig as their No 2 include John Blackley and John Collins at Hibernian, Davie Hay and Billy McNeill at Celtic and Roy Aitken at Aberdeen.

The 63-year-old has been appointed manager just once before in a coaching career lasting three decades.

He was sacked by Belgian club Sporting Charleroi in April, 2010 after five months in charge, during which the club lost 14 of their 19 games.

Craig also had two spells as interim manager at Easter Road but failed to win any of his eight matches in 1986-87 or 2007-08. Consequently, his good reputation as a coach does not mean he is not a high-risk appointment for St Mirren.

He acted as mentor to Lennon during that first period with Hibs and insisted that the outgoing boss bore him no ill will for taking his job.

“If you want to get the Danny side of things over, I’ll give you what I can,” said Craig. “It’s an old cliché but it really has been a hectic 24 – no, 48 – hours.

“On Sunday I received a call asking me to come into the club on Monday. I know that Danny received a similar call, asking him to come in at a different time.

“Obviously, there has been speculation [about Danny] for the past few weeks or so. In fact, when we were going through a bad run – and I say ‘we’ here because whatever decisions Danny made, I was party to. Every one of them.

“You build up a relationship over three years and it’s quite intense because you’re with each other every morning, planning this and planning that.

“So whatever criticism or praise was aimed at Danny, I’m happy to take my fair share of that. The emotional side of things kicks in when one of you is asked to leave the club and the other is asked to stay on.

“Basically, that’s what it was. On Monday morning… I was asked if I would stay on and, at that point in time, there were no particulars about the post.

“I think the board just wanted to know whether I would be interested and I said that I would be, knowing full well that the guy I’ve been working beside for three years has just walked out of the door.

“And it’s not easy, but it happens all the time in football. Once you’re ingrained into the mechanics of football, it helps you deal with it.

“It never really softens the blow but, being football people, you know it can happen and it happens every year, as we’ve just seen.”

Craig would have accepted the offer from the directors with or without Lennon’s approval, but claims his blessing was granted.

“I spoke to Danny once I was offered the job,” he explained. “It was actually quite late in the day because I’d tried him earlier and missed him so it was late on Monday evening. This is Wednesday, isn’t it? Yeah? So I spoke to him beforehand and he said: ‘I wish you all the best.’ I enjoyed our three years together and built up a good friendship with him.

“It was an offer that was very attractive because of the kind of club it is, and that stuck with me. But I also know there’s a guy out there who has just lost his job. What would he want? I know Danny wanted me to take it. That was what he said. It was a verbal from him. It wasn’t an awkward conversation between us, that’s the wrong word.

“I know how he feels – I’ve been there. And he knows how I feel, as he was brought in on a high four years ago. So, between the two of us, I think the friendship is too strong for things to be awkward.”

Craig was at pains to stress that his decision was made for professional rather than personal reasons.

“In any business you’ll always come across times when it’s time to go,” he said. “You may leave of your own accord or you may leave because you’ve been asked to leave.

“It’s the way of the world. I don’t want to dwell too much on whether I’m loyal to Danny or is he loyal to me. We’re friends. The last three years have been so enjoyable, culminating in the [2012] League Cup win.”

Craig revealed that he hoped to speak to the players (including Darren McGregor, Marian Kello, Paul McGowan, Josh Magennis, David van Zanten and Christopher Dilo) who are out of contract “within the next 48 hours”.