One year on from leaving Hibs amid a wave of emotion, John Doolan is keen to return to Scottish football.
In his role as first-team coach, the 48-year-old played an instrumental role in helping his fellow Liverpudlian, Alan Stubbs, revive the Easter Road side following relegation in 2014, with the historic Scottish Cup triumph 12 months ago proving to be their parting gift after two years in Edinburgh. Just days after beating Rangers in the final, of course, the victorious management team were headhunted by Rotherham United.
Doolan agonised over leaving Hibs as he had no desire to depart a club he had fallen in love with. The fact he was a genuine contender to replace Stubbs as head coach prior to Neil Lennon entering the frame made his decision even tougher. In the end, however, the off-field trouble he was enduring at the time – namely the passing of his father John just before the Scottish Cup final and the fact his brother’s wife was also gravely ill – meant that returning to England to be back with his family seemed the obvious choice.
Now, however, after a season which started with Doolan as Rotherham assistant and ended with him back at Wigan Athletic as first-team coach, he is open to the idea of returning north to pursue his career.
“I’d love to go back to Scotland,” Doolan told the Evening News. “Everyone knows that I’d just lost my father when I left Hibs a year ago and at the time my sister-in-law was ill as well and, unfortunately, we lost her as well a few months ago.
“I’m in a better place now, though, and I’d be open to the idea of going back up to Scotland. I’d have no hesitation if the job was right. I had two good years of working in the Championship with Hibs and competing regularly against Premiership clubs which I feel has stood me in good stead. I really enjoyed being on the Scottish scene so I’d definitely be open to coming back up the road if the right opportunity arose. I’m open-minded about where I go next and whether I’d be a coach or a No.1, but I’d jump at the chance to go back to Scotland if a suitable position came up.”
Following a difficult period in his life, Doolan feels revitalised and eager to land himself a permanent role. After he, Stubbs and Andy Holden, the third member of the managerial triumvirate, lost their jobs at Rotherham in October, Doolan spent five months out of the senior game before, in mid-March, getting a call from Graham Barrow, who had just been appointed interim manager of a Wigan Athletic side plummeting towards relegation from the Championship. Doolan, who had been first-team coach at the Latics prior to joining Hibs, accepted the invitation to assist Barrow but, having inherited a team four points adrift of safety with just nine games to play, they were fighting a losing battle.
“I had been out and about watching games, and I was actually on my way to watch Doncaster v Notts County in March when I got a call from Graham,” Doolan recalls. “I had worked with him before in my first spell at Wigan, so I went in to help him out until the end of the season.
“There were only nine games left and three of them were against Newcastle, Brighton and Reading, so it was a big ask for us to turn it round. We had nothing to lose at that stage, and we gave it a decent shot, got the players believing again and picked up a few good results. But I think with what we took on, in terms of the situation we inherited, it was a bridge too far.
“It was nice for me to get back in and get a feel for it again after having been out of it since leaving Rotherham. I was always out and about watching games but there’s no substitute for being hands-on and being on the training ground, dealing with players and team selections and so on. It was a totally different environment from the first time I was at Wigan because it wasn’t a particularly happy camp after the way the season had gone, but it was good experience for me to deal with that situation. I learned a lot in the two months.”
While he awaits his next opportunity in senior football, Doolan will spend a week early next month trying to unearth the next Jamie Vardy. “I’ve got some work with the V9 Academy coming up, which Jamie Vardy’s launching,” he explained. “I’m basically doing a week’s coaching at Manchester City’s training ground, trying to find the next Jamie Vardy-type non-league player to come through.
“After that, I’m just keeping my options open. I’m in a better place off the pitch than I was a year ago, and I’m ready to go again.”