A hero at Lincoln and his stock high, Danny Cowley has a number of suitors. But history tells us that the waiting for the perfect job at the perfect time is tricky to the point of being impossible…
As Danny Cowley ponders his future, he has a number of cautionary tales to take into consideration. The problem is, the cautionary tales give him some pretty contradictory answers.
The Lincoln City manager’s stock has been high for a little while now, and with good reason: he got the Imps promoted back to the Football League in his first season in charge, simultaneously taking them to the quarter-finals of the 2016/17 FA Cup, reached the playoffs and won the EFL Trophy the following season, and the season after that won League Two.
Three full seasons, two promotions, a trophy and the first non-league club since 1914 to reach the last eight of the cup. His phone, quite understandably, has been ringing.
The latest clubs ask if he fancies what they’ve got are Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday, two institutions of heft who find themselves without a permanent manager for different reasons. Cowley confirmed on Tuesday that he had turned down Huddersfield, and denied any contact with Wednesday but, then again, he would.
“We had the opportunity to speak to Huddersfield and decided it wasn’t the right time,” Cowley said. “We’ve got full respect for Huddersfield. It was nothing to do with them as a football club, it was just the timing and the role we’re in.
“It’s a role we’re very committed to. It’s a club we’re very proud to be a part of. It would have to be the perfect opportunity for us to even consider [leaving]. That’s where it is.”
It’s worth mentioning, for clarity, that by ‘we’ Cowley was talking about him and his brother Nicky, his assistant manager. He’s not the Queen, or Harvey Two-Face.
Of course, what he said makes sense. Him and his brother are onto a good thing at Lincoln, heroes for what they’ve already achieved and, given the way they’ve started the season with four wins from their six games putting them second in the table, there’s every chance of a third promotion.
But Cowley will also know that his stock might never be higher and thus never be more attractive to bigger and more glamourous employers. And that’s where those cautionary tales come in.
One of the jobs he was previously heavily linked with was Ipswich, a gig that instead went to Paul Hurst, at the time riding high from his success with Shrewsbury. Hurst presumably thought that even though Ipswich were something of a mess, things had ended so badly for Mick McCarthy that the only way was up. He thought he would be given time to implement his ideas and integrate his players, and thus took the leap when he could have stayed somewhere he knew was relatively secure.
Alas, things went south rapidly. He won only one of his 15 games in charge, setting Ipswich on the track for relegation into the third tier and he was out before the end of October.
It would have to be the perfect opportunity for us to even consider leaving.
There’s the evidence for Cowley to stay. But on the other hand, he might look to Steve Tilson, whose timeline is pretty similar to Cowley’s. A Southend lifer, he took over in 2003 when they were in danger of relegation to the Conference but took them to the Football League Trophy final (losing to Blackpool), then a pair of promotions up to the Championship.
Tilson was in the frame for a plethora of jobs, including but not limited to Norwich, West Brom, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday, turning them all down at least partly out of loyalty to the club at which he spent the majority of his professional career.
But in the summer of 2010 after two relegations, something mitigated by severe financial problems and a transfer embargo, Tilson was sacked. He’s now working for South Essex College as head of their football academy.
Cowley might well be perfectly happy where he is, and it is of course quite refreshing to see someone sticking with a job in which he’s comfortable rather than chasing something more high profile.
But at some stage he will leave Lincoln. At the moment he’s in the privileged position of being the person who decides when that will be. Tilson’s story tells him that now could be the chance to go. Hurst’s tells him he might be better advised to stay.
The only reliable conclusion that we can draw from any of this is that while Cowley wants the perfect job to come along, history tells us there’s no way of knowing when the perfect time to go is.
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