Former Scotland manager Craig Brown believes that Walter Smith is the man best placed to rescue Rangers as their season appears in danger of unravelling.
The cash-strapped club has squandered the second-largest budget in the country and will trail Championship leaders Hearts by 12 points should Robbie Neilson’s side win at Cowdenbeath tonight.
Coach Kenny McDowall has been placed in temporary charge following the announcement late on Sunday evening that outgoing manager Ally McCoist will be placed on gardening leave for the duration of the 12-month notice period he triggered two weeks ago.
However, with a potentially morale-sapping League Cup semi-final against Celtic looming on 1 February, a home game against Hearts on 15 January and the pressing financial need to successfully negotiate a passage through the play-offs in May if automatic promotion is denied them, Brown argues that the experience of Smith should not be overlooked.
He won nine SPL titles, five Scottish Cups and six League Cups during his two spells in charge at Ibrox as well as taking the club to the final of the UEFA Cup in 2008.
There is no other candidate with a comparable CV and Brown has no doubts that he is the best man for the job he first accepted back in 1991.
“If I were the chairman of Rangers I would get down on my bended knee and beg Walter Smith to come back as manager,” he said.
“He’s 66 but he certainly isn’t too old. Look at Harry Redknapp and Sam Allardyce, who are still managing in the Premier League.
“And the greatest of them all, Sir Alex Ferguson, was still winning titles in his seventies.
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“Walter is a football man and he knows Rangers inside out. He could also take someone like Billy Davies, Terry Butcher or Stuart McCall to work alongside him.”
Brown has sympathy for McCoist but can understand why he felt the need to stand down. The football his teams played was unattractive and, recently, ineffective to boot and the older man had hoped McCoist’s story would have had a happier ending.
“I think it’s disappointing to see him go,” he said. “When a guy goes from being a legend as a player to the manager, you want him to succeed.
“It was the same when Kenny Dalglish was at Celtic. He was the Celtic legend, he was manager for a while. John Barnes was overseeing the team but Kenny took over when he left.”
Brown is also of the opinion that snap judgements made on the managerial nous – or lack of it – shown by McCoist tend to lack perspective.
“I don’t think he did badly under terrible circumstances,” he said. “It’s been quite unbelievable the circumstances he’s operated under.
“When I heard him being interviewed he was always articulate and upbeat. You never thought in any interview I heard that he was suffering.
“He’s got that personality which is gregarious and outgoing. I don’t think a couple of bad results, put in the overall context, was going to affect him all that much.
“I can’t read Ally’s mind but I would suspect one of the reasons in him resigning would be his family. He’s got young kids who are at the age where they could be getting a bit of stick at school. I think his family would have been a factor.
“He’s got a mother who is at every game, a new wife, and three young kids. He was quoted as saying the older boys can cope but I read it was affecting the younger ones. I believe he’s a family guy. He’s a father first and foremost. I know I was an absentee father but he’s a proper father and it’s hard if the kids are getting it at school: it upsets you.”
Even so, the 74-year-old is confident that McCoist will return to the front line sooner rather than later.
“I think Ally will stay in the game,” he said. “He’s got the capability to stay in the game. When you’ve managed at the top then it would be hard for him to go and manage Ayr United, for example. That would be a difficult step, having been where he has been, but he could do a job in England.”
Someone who has done that – and whose current employment status makes him a viable contender to succeed McCoist – is former Preston North End, Derby County and Nottingham Forest manager Davies.
The former Rangers player has a prickly demeanour which has previously alienated both his employers and the media but his coaching credentials are unquestioned.
“I’d use one word to describe Billy: outstanding,” said Brown. “He’s a brilliant football manager and I’ve seen them all at work. Billy is absolutely outstanding.
“There’s not one player who has played for Billy who would say a word against him as a manager. He has a fantastic record.
“The Championship in England has been a graveyard for a lot of Scottish managers when you look at the guys who have gone down there and had a hard time.
“That’s going away back to the late Tommy Burns when he was at Reading, Stuart McCall and Jim Jefferies at Bradford and Craig Levein at Leicester City.
“Billy is the opposite – he went down there and excelled. He had Preston in the play-offs and got Derby up through them. Billy is a play-off expert.
“The chairman was in tears when he got Derby into the Premiership because it was worth £52 million back then. He signed Kenny Miller at Derby County so he’ll know all about him.”
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