FOR nearly quarter of a century, Billy Brown remained an assistant manager. Not, he insists, through any lack of ambition, but because the jobs he was in as a No 2 were bigger than any available posts in which he could have become a boss in his own right.
Now the position has changed. After just a couple of months at Hibernian, Brown has gone from assistant manager to caretaker following the sacking of Colin Calderwood. Filling the top job would obviously be a step up – and it is one which Brown is ready and willing to take.
Shortly after joining Hibs, Brown declared that he retained the desire to take on a club in his own right. He may not have expected the opportunity to come so quickly, but he is determined to make the most of it now.
He has applied and been interviewed for the vacancy, and is undeterred by the rapid turnover of managers in the last few years. This, he is clear, is no poison chalice, but a chance to take one of the plum jobs in Scottish football.
“Taking over this club at any time is a marvellous opportunity,” he said yesterday. “Taking it over at the moment – well, you only take over a club when they’re doing badly. The results over the last 18 months haven’t gone well.
“So you’ve got a chance to make your mark. You’ve got to make sure that the players we’ve got here are utilised correctly, and in a manner where they’re more competitive. But it is a good job and it is a great opportunity – an opportunity that I’ve been waiting for for a long time.
“When I started off with Jim [Jefferies] 23 years ago with Berwick, I didn’t intend to be an assistant manager all that time. But every job I had a chance of getting wasn’t as good as the job I was in at the time.
“If people thought it was lack of ambition, I didn’t think it was. If you know me, I’ve always been ambitious, but there weren’t any bigger jobs I could get. Being the assistant manager of Hearts is a big job.
“But now, the manager of Hibs is better than the assistant manager of Hibs. I’ve got a chance. I never ever thought it had passed me by. I always wanted to do it. And you know the way Jim and I ran the club – I have been very instrumental in all the decisions. So here’s my chance, if I get it.”
Tomorrow’s home game against Kilmarnock will be the first time Brown has ever been caretaker, and, with seven players having been absent on under-21 duty, he has had little time to get his instructions across to the whole squad. But, for two separate reasons, that does not worry him: first, he quickly made up his mind about how the team needed to be improved, and second, he does not regard this one match as tantamount to a job application. “Let’s be honest, we are a wee bit of a soft touch,” he said. “We’ve got to be more resilient and harder to beat, so I’ve worked on that this week.
“If a job of this magnitude is decided on one game, it’s pitiful. If the team wins and plays well, or gets beat and plays poorly, as far as I’m concerned shouldn’t enhance my chances.
“You’re there because you’ve got certain attributes, and one game can’t either make them better or diminish them. So I wouldn’t like to think what happens on Saturday makes a difference. It will make a difference to the club, because we need three points.
“If we don’t start winning, things are going to get a wee bit sticky. But if you look at the league, I think we’re five points behind Hearts, for instance, so two victories can square up the league.
“We can’t go on getting beat, there’s no doubt about it. If we keep getting beat, we’re going to be in a relegation battle. The league’s too tight at the moment to say that, but November becomes February very quickly, so we’ve got to start winning sooner rather than later.”
In some cases, an inside candidate has an advantage because they have a clearer idea of what needs to be done. Brown thinks that in this instance it may only help him if he gets the job.
“I’ve been here for a wee while. But I don’t know if that makes a difference. I don’t know who’s in for the job. I don’t know anything about it.
“I think it gives me an advantage in as much as if I get the job I know what’s needed straight away. Whether it gives me an advantage to get the job, I don’t know.”
If Brown’s application is unsuccessful, the club might wish to keep him on to ensure a smooth transition from Calderwood to the new manager, but he is unsure how he would react to such an offer. “I’ll have to see about that, because every circumstance is different.
“I was asked to come here to support Colin; at the time I was willing to do that. I wouldn’t take the job just to support anybody. It would have to be somebody that I wanted to work with. But I’m not thinking along these lines. I have been interviewed for the job, I do want the job, and we’ll have to see what happens.”
Brown wants the job, and so do around 90 others whose applications have been sifted through by the Hibs board. While insisting that he does not know who they are or what their chances of thwarting his ambition might be, he sees the number of applications as proof that many people view the vacancy as a great opportunity. “If you look round in Scotland, it’s one of the major jobs. They have been through a few managers, but for different reasons. Tony Mowbray and John Collins left.
“These jobs are at a premium. There are loads of people looking for jobs and there are not that many jobs for them. This is one of the better ones.
“I would have thought there would have been applicants from all over the world. I’m just banking on them getting the wee boy from Musselburgh.”