It was little surprise to Mark Kerr that Hearts’ jettisoning of Ian Cathro had hardly filtered into the public arena yesterday by the time Peter Houston first started to be touted as his replacement.
It has become one of the conventions adhered to by Scottish football that Houston’s admirable endeavours at Falkirk in recent years put him in the frame for any vacancy that comes up. Kerr, his captain at a club that seems forever the almost-but-not-quite side of the second tier, can normally brush off fears that he could be about to lose a manager he prizes so highly.
Yesterday was a little different, though. And all because the 35-year-old’s stirring memories of first encountering Houston at Dundee United, when he was then assistant to Craig Levein… the now Hearts director of football who will decide the person to be tasked with putting the Gorgie club back on course following the failed Cathro experiment.
Yet, Kerr also sought to content himself that Houston has previously said that, at the age of 59, he envisages Falkirk being his final frontline management post. Kerr ultimately believes he will stick to that decision, and have another crack at taking Falkirk up following three consecutive play-off disappointments. Yet, the Falkirk captain also acknowledges that “things can change quickly in football”.
Kerr seems determined to convince himself that there is no way Falkirk could find themselves looking for a new manager the week of the Championship season kicking off but that he cannot quite dispel every doubt.
“I think his name has been mentioned before for certain jobs,” Kerr said. “There was some talk about Kilmarnock when they changed their manager a year ago. I think because he has been consistent and been to cup finals [losing in the 2015 Scottish Cup decider] and taken us to second on a small budget he gets mentioned.
“This one really hits home because of his relationship with Craig Levein. They did work brilliantly together when I was at United and it was probably the best partnership I worked under. But I think the gaffer’s focus is to get Falkirk to the Premiership. He’s got unfinished business. I think he has plans for the next few years, but whether that changes if there is an offer made I’m not sure. If he feels he would like another crack at the Premiership now then I don’t think anyone could say anything back about him.
“But I am more convinced that he will be here with us this season. He’s been great with me and I would be sad to see him go if he left but at the same time pleased for him. However, I’m more than confident he will stay with us.”
The end of Kerr’sfive years at United in 2008 coincided with Cathro being brought on board as a youth coach at the Tannadice club as the result of Levein’s regard for the 22-year-old local coaching programme.
Kerr encountered him again recently and, as his own biographer, found the 31-year-old a more able communicator than he proved in the media and Tynecastle dressing room these past seven months.
“He was a young coach looking after young kids when I was at Tannadice,” were Kerr’s first impressions. “I also met him at the A licence course when he made a speech and spoke very well about some of his experiences.”