‘Mr Hearts’ Gary Locke wants fresh start at Killie
The former Tynecastle captain and manager is back in management on a permanent basis after sealing a three-year deal with Killie.
The 39-year-old felt hard done by after he was axed by the club he supported as a boy last summer, despite leading Hearts through their administration nightmare.
But now he is in charge of the side he ended his playing days with, Locke is determined to change people’s perception of him.
The new boss – who has steered Killie to the brink of a top-six slot after posting just one defeat from seven games in charge – said: “People might see me as being Mr Hearts but I’ve played and coached here before, so without a doubt I want to build that kind of reputation with Kilmarnock.
“I can’t help the way people perceive me but I’m a professional. Wherever I am, whoever I work for, I give it my best shot.
“I had seven great years as a player here. I gave everything I had as a player and will do the same as manager.
“My only focus is on Kilmarnock and doing as best as I can. I want to help take this club forward.
“I went back to Tynecastle as a player and it was no big deal. I will do it again next season but it will be just like another game. The only thing that matters is the three points.”
Killie have had difficult moments in recent months, with supporters at loggerheads with club owner Michael Johnston.
New chairman Jim Mann is now trying to smooth the way, but the off-field problems are nowhere near as bad as the issues Locke had to deal with as Vladimir Romanov’s Hearts reign descended into chaos. “It’s nice to have the club in the position it’s in,” said Locke, whose first game as full-time boss is at home to Motherwell today. “There’s no doubt the situation at Hearts did get on top of me at times. There was just so much going on at the club then.
“But now it will be nice just to have the opportunity to manage a football club and not have to worry about the off-field stuff.
“I’m really excited about this chance of helping to move Kilmarnock forward. I’ve seen the plans that the board have and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in.”
Locke was out of work for just a few weeks following his Gorgie sacking before former Tynecastle team-mate Allan Johnston invited him to be his Rugby Park number two.
But after Johnston quit at the start of February, he was faced with a tough decision – walk with his friend or grasp his opportunity as caretaker.
Thankfully for Locke, Johnston made the decision for him as he urged his former assistant to take the job.
Locke insists he sought out the former Scotland winger’s blessing once more before taking the role full-time.
He said: “I’ve spoken to Allan regularly since taking over.
“He has been a close friend of mine since I was 16. When he left he told me to take this opportunity so that’s the only reason I’m still here.
“I would have walked with him if he’d said otherwise. I’m a loyal person and I can’t thank Allan enough. I just hope he can get himself back into the game soon.”
Locke becomes the third man to lead Killie in the past 21 months after Kenny Shiels and Johnston.
Former chairman Michael Johnston led the negotiations with the former Bradford midfielder but it was Mann who announced they had struck a deal.
Now the new boardroom chief has told Locke he will be given time to make his mark.
Mann said: “We’ve given him a three-year deal because we have plans, but those won’t happen overnight. We can’t keep chopping and changing and we need a manager who is working with us to deliver the plan we have for the club.
“We haven’t set any targets yet and that’s the next debate we need to have. But the obvious one would be if we don’t get top-six this season to get it the next.
“Eventually we want to become the biggest provincial club in the country.”
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