MacPhee was brought on to the Paisley club’s coaching staff by Lennon after the pair had worked together on a couple of things while Lennon was in charge of Cowdenbeath.
MacPhee has talked before about how his relationship with Ian Cathro helped secure the services of current Hearts striker Esmael Goncalves. The Portuguese star joined on loan from Rio Ave, where Cathro was assistant boss, and the move would make a huge impact on the club in the 2012-13 season.
Goncalves scored in both the semi-final and final of the League Cup, as St Mirren won their first trophy in 26 years, defeating Hearts 3-2 at Hampden Park.
Despite such an accomplishment, Lennon was shown the door at the end of the following season when his contract expired. The board swiftly moved to appoint assistant Tommy Craig, who’s disastrous time in charge heavily contributed to the club being relegated from the top flight in 2015.
In an incredible interview with BBC Scotland’s Sportsound programme, Lennon reveals that a rift between himself, Craig and the St Mirren board developed over how much responsibility should be given to MacPhee.
“I felt things were turning against me around the Christmas period. One or two things were coming out of the boardroom, the media were speculating that my job was up in the summer and there would be no new contract offer,” reflected Lennon.
“I’d brought Austin MacPhee on to the coaching staff. I’d worked with Austin before during my time with Cowdenbeath.
“My assistant manager at the time [Tommy Craig] I felt was threatened by the opportunities I was giving Austin. I wanted to take the club forward and be a leading light in the modern game. Austin was a bold addition. He didn’t have a playing pedigree. The players maybe took to him because he was a similar age to a lot of them, and the players liked that fresh approach.
“I made other moves to modernise the coaching staff, including bringing in a sports psychologist on a part-time basis, which the players embraced.
“However, my assistant at the time was very old school, and his resistance to anything new was starting to cause problems. A lot of the players came to me in confidence and complained about how out of touch they felt the assistant manager was.
“Had I been given a new contract, I had plans to hand Austin more responsibility and my assistant didn’t like that. In fact, I know the assistant started talking to the board, who were easily seduced by his stories and tales. They lapped up the stories of the guys he’d met before during his long, successful career.
“A few members of the board were resistant to the modern changes and were adamant that they didn’t want Austin to progress further.”
MacPhee left St Mirren before the end of the season, joining Michael O’Neill’s coaching staff at Northern Ireland and helping the nation qualify for the 2016 Euros. He then returned to Scottish football last year to join Cathro at Tynecastle.
Lennon is not the least bit surprise at the continued ascension of the 37-year-old as he dished out the praise for his former coach.
“He’s a great match analyst. He’s an outstanding coach,” Lennon said of MacPhee. “I gave him opportunities to work in the first team, giving him the chance to work one-on-one with the players to turn their weaknesses into strengths. I also had him coaching set-pieces, for and against.
“Austin is a real asset and time has certainly proven that.”