BILLY BROWN today acclaimed former Hearts manager Gary Locke as one of Scotland’s brightest young coaches as Kilmarnock ponder offering him their assistant manager’s job.
Locke has held initial talks with Allan Johnston, the manager at Rugby Park, about replacing the departed Sandy Clark. He is keen to return to football quickly after Hearts decided not to renew his contract.
Assisted by Brown last season, Locke narrowly failed to keep a young Tynecastle side in the Scottish Premiership following a 15-point penalty for entering administration. Despite that disappointment, Locke remains highly thought of at Kilmarnock, where he spent seven years as a player. He had also been linked with the managerial vacancy at Championship club Falkirk, but Peter Houston is now favourite for that position.
Brown stressed today that any team appointing Locke will get a coach who is comparable with Scotland’s best. In particular, he hailed the dignity and professionalism the 38-year-old showed throughout last season as Hearts flirted with financial ruin and toiled at times on the pitch. Towards the end of the campaign, Locke and Brown had the team playing attractive football as young players matured and pressure eased.
“I worked every single day with Gary Locke last year – every single minute of every single day. Even through the dark times, when we were struggling to win a game, he never flinched,” Brown told the Evening News.
“He was enthusiastic every day, he was professional and passionate every day. We worked away with the players and they responded magnificently. We turned into probably as attractive a team as there was in Scotland. Gary and the players come out of last season with a lot of credit.
“Gary isn’t just popular because he’s a good lad. He’s popular because of the job he did at Hearts. Turning the team around like he did made him popular. If you’re a failure, you won’t be popular. At the end of the day, he just about did it. He just about kept the club up.
“In Scotland right now, you’ve got Jackie McNamara, Paul Hartley and Derek McInnes who have had a lot of publicity and rightly so. They are the bright young things in management. Gary Locke, without doubt, is on a par with them. He’s taken criticism and stood up to it despite it coming from every angle.
“Any club that wants Gary would be lucky to have him. I don’t know if Kilmarnock or Falkirk are interested in him but I do know that, whoever gets him, will be getting the real deal. They will also get a decent, trustworthy, honest boy.”
Assisting Johnston at Kilmarnock may suit Locke, whom Brown describes as a hands-on coach who does his best work on the training field. “Gary’s a coach who likes to get out on the training pitch,” he continued. “I had a different relationship with Gary than I did with Jim Jefferies.
“Jim was a manager who liked to watch things while I did most of the training. Gary wants to be a coach and be hands-on. He’s a real good coach and he has a presence about him on the training ground. Players respond to him because he’s got something about him.
“He’s good at team-talks and the things that happened to him last season at Hearts will have made him a stronger lad. Don’t be kidded on that he’s a nice lad and that’s it. He’s got a streak of steel in him. I just hope that he goes on in his career and becomes a top manager and I’m sure he will.”
Locke and Brown left Tynecastle last month on the day new owner Ann Budge took charge and appointed Craig Levein director of football. The difficulties of last season have not diminished their appetite for the game.
“The Hearts thing was a blow for Gary, there’s no doubt about that. He thought he was going to get the job and had it taken away from him, but that hasn’t diminished his burning desire to fulfil his potential. He will be a top manager,” said Brown.
“He isn’t down in any way whatsoever. He wanted to be the Hearts manager but he wasn’t given the job. There’s nothing he can do about that now, he has to get on with his life. I can tell you right at this moment that he’s up for it.”