SPORTS COMMENT: Promotion of Dean Austin to Cobblers boss is the sensible choice
Appointing a new manager at a football club is always a gamble.
There are no guarantees, no sure things, no matter who a chairman and board of directors hands responsibility of the playing side to.
Just look at the Cobblers’ recent history.
The likes of Gary Johnson, Rob Page, Justin Edinburgh and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink all looked sound appointments.
They all had experience, all had decent track records - and they all failed at Sixfields, although Edinburgh does deserve credit for steering the Cobblers away from relegation in 2017.
On the other side of the coin you have Chris Wilder, who wrote his name in Cobblers folklore by first keeping the club in the Football League on the last day of the 2013/14 season, and then winning the league two title against all the odds in 2016.
But when he was given the job by David Cardoza at the end of January, 2014, nobody knew how things would work out.
Indeed, a year after his appointment, Wilder himself was under huge pressure with the team again struggling at the foot of league two, but Cardoza stuck by his man, and that decision ended up paying dividends for the club.
Then you have another Cardoza appointment in Colin Calderwood, who was a complete managerial rookie when he took the job alongside assistant John Deehan in 2003.
It must be said, Calderwood was Cardoza and his board’s fourth boss in a matter of a few chaotic months after they had dispensed with Kevan Broadhurst, Terry Fenwick and Martin Wilkinson in quick succession.
But they eventually struck gold with Calderwood, who went on to steer the team to the play-offs in 2004 and 2005, before making it third time lucky with promotion in 2006.
So you see, there really is no formula, no secret to success, every single managerial appointment is a throw of the dice, a gamble.
It’s a lucky dip.
But some appointments are less of a gamble than others, and I think the Cobblers’ decision to make Dean Austin their new boss falls into that category.
The former Watford assistant boss was made caretaker manager for the final five games of last season, following the sacking of Hasselbaink on Easter Monday.
Austin couldn’t stop Town from being relegated, but he did at least spark some spirit and life into a team that had previously looked dead and buried.
He claimed seven points out of the last 12 available to him, and ensured the team went into the penultimate game of the campaign at Walsall with their fate in their own hands.
A heartbreaking last-gasp 1-0 loss at the Bescot Stadium painfully put paid to that survival dream, but Town had at least gone down fighting, and it seems pretty clear one of the big reasons for the turnaround in the team’s performance and intensity levels was down to Austin.
Austin also made a difference off the pitch, making a point of engaging with the club’s supporters, who had been frustrated with Hasselbaink’s regular criticism of elements of the team’s fanbase, which he deemed too negative.
Ironically, of course, that was exactly what the fans thought he was too!
You only have to compare and contrast the atmosphere at Sixfields for the Good Friday clash with Charlton Athletic and then then final day draw with Oldham Athletic a matter of weeks later, which confirmed the team’s relegation to league two.
Things were toxic as a spineless Town were thumped 4-0 by the Addicks, with players, the team as a whole, the manager and his decisions being met with boos and dissent from the stands.
Fast forward a little over a month, and even though the Cobblers were relegated following the 2-2 draw with the Latics, they were clapped and cheered off the pitch, as was caretaker boss Austin.
It was in many ways a bizarre scene.
Oldham had also been relegated, and their travelling army of fans were furious and let the players and manager Richie Wellens know all about it, while the home support applauded the Town team as they headed down the tunnel and off on their summer holidays.
And that reaction was purely down to the impact Austin had over the final few games of the campaign, and the fact that he and his team had at long last played with a bit of pride and passion, and with their hearts on their sleeves.
Chairman Kelvin Thomas was at both of those games, and I wouldn’t bet against that change in attitude from the players, and change of atmosphere in the stands, played a major part in Austin getting the job.
Indeed, on the face of it, appointing him as the new manager makes perfect sense.
Austin is an excellent coach, of that there is no debate.
He knows the players inside out already, so there will be no period of assessing the squad, which a fresh face would have to do.
He also knows the players’ individual characters, knows what makes each individual tick, and that could be crucial.
He knows the squad’s strengths and weaknesses, so knows exactly what is lacking, what is needed, and who may be surplus to requirements.
He is a great believer in giving youth a chance, and has spoken openly in the past few weeks about how impressed he has been with some of the club’s emerging talent.
The likes of 17-year-olds Morgan Roberts, who made his first team debut last weekend, Sean Whaler, Cameron McWilliams and others have all caught Austin’s eye, and he will give them their chance if he thinks they deserve it.
The Cobblers players also clearly respect Austin.
They appear to like him too, but that is irrelevant, as it is respect that is the key.
His ability to get the best out of the group of players is what counts - and he appeared to go a long way towards doing that in the final month of the campaign.
Austin also knows the workings of the club, knows everybody in the background and is popular around the place.
He has already made a connection with the supporters, and that means there is certain to be a positive vibe going into the new season, and that will be crucial.
So what are the down sides?
Well, Austin was of course ‘part of the problem’ as the Cobblers slumped to relegation this season, with him being the assistant manager for eight months.
But the reality is, an assistant can only do so much.
They may have all the right answers and lots of big ideas which they will pass on to whoever the manager is, but they ultimately have no power over whether or not those ideas or plans are implemented.
That is down to the boss, and the boss only, as Austin will now find out.
Another minus mark is that Austin is unproven as a manager, and has very little experience.
Well, he never will get experience unless he is given a chance, and I feel he showed enough in his five games as caretaker charge that he has something to offer. He definitely had an impact.
I also know from speaking to him over the past month or so that he has plenty of ideas and a vision of how he wants the team to play.
He also has big ambition, and now is his chance to prove he has what it takes to excel in the big chair.
Aside from those two issues, I can’t really see any other negatives with him getting the job.
Taking all of the above factors into account, I would say Thomas and the Town board have made the sensible choice.
Now, they will be hoping it will be the right choice.
But, of course, as we all know, there’s only one thing that will tell if that is the case - and that is time.