IN the days and weeks leading up to Rangers' stumble into administration a year ago, Ally McCoist was like a seismologist who suspected a devastating earthquake was about to occur but could do nothing to stop it happening.
The manager has felt for some time that all was not well during Craig Whyte's ill-fated tenure as owner, but never knew for certain just how grave the situation was. The first pre-tremors arrived on February 13 when Rangers gave notice of their intention to enter administration, and a day later the full magnitude of the quake was unleashed.
Aftershocks rippled out from Ibrox for months afterwards. Players departing en masse, liquidation and a newco made to start life in the third division were just some of the many consequences. Even now, as last weekend's tame William Hill Scottish Cup exit at the hands of Dundee United demonstrated, the ramifications of that Valentine's Day blast are still being felt. It may be some time before Rangers can finish restoring the team, and the club, to anything like what it was before.
Throughout it all, McCoist has stood at the epicentre. He had little option but to stay after his off-the-cuff remark about "not doing walking away" but, a year on, he insists there was nowhere he would rather have been than managing Rangers throughout the worst crisis in their 140-year history. The experience brought him closer to many people, his family especially, and for that he remains grateful.
Of course, he would rather none of it had happened at all. McCoist is steeped in Rangers but it was still, in his words, "a horrendous year". He had endured some tough times when the fans didn't take to him initially when he arrived at Ibrox as a player, but nothing like this. With the owner disgraced and his board discredited, it was left to the manager – in his first season in the job – to fill the varied roles of spokesman , motivator, counsellor and leader. He did them all unfailingly but, even now, the strain is still evident.
"It's been an absolutely crazy year," he said. "I would say it was full of ups and downs but there weren't too many ups. It was certainly a year that absolutely tested everyone within the club, including the support. Without doubt it's been the worst working year I can ever remember.
"I probably appreciate my family more now than I have ever done, strange as that may seem. That's probably a criticism of myself. When things aren't going well with your daily life at work then you're very blessed if you can go back and take your mind off it. The year has also made me realise what the club means to so many people."
It is hard to imagine what would have happened had McCoist not been the manager when administration came. Walter Smith, presumably, would have reacted in similar fashion but what if someone without that same emotional connection had been in charge?
Would Dick Advocaat, Paul Le Guen or others have put themselves through the same emotional wringer? "In a crazy way I feel quite lucky to have had that opportunity," McCoist said. "I'd far rather it was me – someone who knows and cares for the club – than somebody else. I would swap administration for anything but I wouldn't swap my position because it's been an experience where I've seen things and learned things I would never have done otherwise. If I could turn the clock back I wouldn't wish to have been anywhere else."
Rangers have a sizeable advantage at the top of the Irn-Bru Third Division, but their performances have been inconsistent and a transfer embargo in place until September 1 limits McCoist's prospects of overhauling the squad in the summer. Cup defeats to United and Inverness Caledonian Thistle have been a stark reminder of how far the team have to go if they are to return to the top, but there have been signs of progress, McCoist feels.
"It was a horrendous year, absolutely, but we seem to have come out it in reasonable shape," he said. "Looking at the squad we have, our league position is certainly satisfactory. We're a little bit disappointed to be knocked out of the cups. But we've certainly come the few steps I would have hoped we would have come, even if there's still a long, long way to go."