EVEN for someone as seasoned as Alex Smith, the resignation of a caretaker manager is new territory.
But Smith, chairman of the Scottish Managers and Coaches Association, was not entirely surprised when Kenny McDowall declared his intention to quit after just three games in charge of Rangers.
McDowall, who triggered a 12-month notice period in his contract late on Monday night, took training at Murray Park yesterday. As it stands, he remains in his post unless Rangers decide to place him on gardening leave as they did with manager Ally McCoist.
A boyhood Rangers supporter, McDowall admitted in the immediate aftermath of McCoist’s exit last month that his promotion to the managerial role was “tainted”.
Smith has sympathy for McDowall, a member of his 1987 Scottish Cup winning team at St Mirren, and feels he was placed in an untenable position amid the ongoing crisis and battle for boardroom control at Ibrox.
“It was kind of a mission impossible from the start for Kenny,” Smith told The Scotsman. “It should be a great honour to be in a position to manage a club like Rangers, but the fact is the circumstances there just now are totally different from normality.
“The manager is having to deal with so many changes around the club. It is almost changing on an hourly basis, never mind a daily basis.
“While you might think that has nothing to do with preparing for a game of football, it definitely has a detrimental effect. It’s a hard job to manage Rangers when everything is ship-shape and on an even keel, so you can only imagine how much more difficult it is in the current circumstances.
“When you have been first-team coach and then assistant manager as Kenny has, you gain confidences from players which you handle discreetly. It’s very difficult to disperse with that kind of familiarity if you have not really been given a proper mandate to become the manager. Kenny was really just thrust into it without that mandate.
“There was a reluctance from him to move into Ally’s chair. You could tell that from his interviews at the time. He was taking up a close friend’s position without having the same kind of mandate to do the job.
“Also, Kenny was never going to be given the managerial power you need to manage a club like Rangers. The odds have been stacked against him. There are eight or nine of the Rangers first-team squad out of contract at the end of the season and that just spreads further uncertainty through the place.”
With the League Cup semi-final against Celtic at Hampden now less than two weeks away, Rangers may ideally prefer to instal a new manager as soon as possible. But the bid by former director Dave King to overthrow the current board of directors at a general meeting of shareholders means, as ever, nothing is that straightforward at Ibrox.
“I don’t see Rangers allowing the situation to continue like it is,” added Smith. “They will need to act. They may look to bring in someone else on a temporary basis until they can get the man they want on a longer-term basis.
“But the problem is that they don’t really have a board at the moment with the authority to put that in place. There is so much uncertainty over who will be running the club in the coming weeks and months. So how do you appoint a new manager in those circumstances? It’s a very strange and unusual position.”
Whatever the future holds for McDowall, Smith is confident his experiences at Ibrox will not negatively impact on his prospects of finding a new challenge elsewhere.
“I don’t think it will do Kenny any harm for the rest of his coaching career,” said Smith. “He has acted with a fair bit of decorum and dignity. I think people will be appreciative enough of the circumstances he has found himself in. The reputation he has gained as a coach down the years, at both Celtic and Rangers, isn’t going to be damaged.
“It’s a shame for Kenny what has happened at Rangers. He is a boy whose character deserves better. He is at one of the biggest clubs around, where he always wanted to be, but unfortunately it has just been constant turmoil off the pitch for too long now. It has just been staggering on from one problem to another, without getting any closer to the answer.
“What’s gone on at Rangers has not been any good for Scottish football at all as far as I’m concerned. We are almost at the point now of saying ‘Stop – let’s take out a blank sheet of paper and start again’. If only it was that simple.”