The 47-year-old has inherited only four signed players – Michael Tidser, Bob McHugh, Robert Thomson and Jack Iredale – at a Cappielow club with designs on housing themselves in the top flight in the short-term. Following Livingston’s shock promotion to the Premiership this season, frankly, every Championship side will suddenly have designs on a place in the top flight.
McKinnon isn’t daunted by the ambitions of a club with “a great history and bright future”. Neither is he damaged by the roof being brought down on top of him at Tannadice. He took over at a club so entwined in his life and playing career in May 2016 as one of the most promising coaches in the Scottish game. His previous construction work with Raith Rovers and Brechin City ensured that.
Yet, after United lost the Premiership play-off final to Hamilton and then faltered in the opening months of another Championship campaign, he became another managerial casualty.
Not that he is prepared to seem himself that way. McKinnon isn’t hung up on what happened at Tannadice as he is convinced that, as with previous posts, he demonstrated the sort of team building that can underpin making the desired progress with Morton.
“It was frustrating, that is all it was, frustrating for a period,” he said of his United exit. “I never felt any ill will towards anyone. Listen, you have got to understand, the people who run the club make the decisions. I was frustrated but that passed and I was just waiting for the right opportunity to appear.
“It is what it is. It was disappointing but I wish them well. I have a job to do here. Hopefully we get them [United] on the first day of the season! Probably will now…
“No, I am focused on the rebuild of the squad here, it is a tough ask, it will be a very competitive league this year, there is no doubt about that. So we need to get working quickly and make some good decisions on the recruitment side. I am absolutely confident in what I achieved at United. I built two teams in a year. One in the first year and one in the second year so I have nothing to prove. I was disappointed to be relieved of my duties but that is football, isn’t it?
“When I took the job, everybody was under contract, we had to actually move players on and get players in, guys like Tony Andreu were magnificent that year. There was another rebuild the next year, because we lost Simon Murray, Tony Andreu, Jakub Mikkelsen, that was 60-odd goals there, I had to recruit Scott McDonald. No points to prove, focus on this job, that is all that matters.
“I never applied for any jobs, I was invited to apply to this, I did, went to interview and it went from there. There have been no other jobs in Scotland, there are only two really and they have only just come up.
“I was speaking to people in Australia, Albert Kidd is a good friend of mine and I thought I might go and work out there. That was in the Far East and only till Christmas so it wasn’t that appealing, but I would have gone to Australia. The Morton job came up and I am delighted.”
The job came up because Morton took the decision that change was required after four years under Jim Duffy. Chairman Crawford Rae has bought into a three-year plan for McKinnon – operating with a one-year rolling contract – having recently taken over from his father, Douglas, whose health no longer allows him to take an active role in a club he has backed since 2003. It is a period in which it has proved impossible to end the club’s exile from the upper strata of the Scottish game that stretches back to 1985.
“Jim Duffy did a great job over the last four years, we were down in League 1 and Jim got us out of there, stabilised things and did a great job,” said Rae. “Like anything in football there’s a time to freshen things up. It’s a new regime. My father is not keeping in the best of health at this minute and one thing that he regretted is not bringing top-flight football to Inverclyde during his tenure. It’s an ambition of mine that we can do that for him during his lifetime.”