TOMMY CRAIG stepped into the still-warm shoes of Danny Lennon last night and spoke of the debt he owes to his former colleague after replacing him as manager of St Mirren.
Craig had been out of football for more than a year after a five-month stint in charge of the Belgian side Charleroi when Lennon, who described the 63-year-old as "one of his best signings", brought him to Paisley as his first-team coach in place of the departing Iain Jenkins in July 2011. He has now turned from Lennon's most trusted lieutenant to his successor after agreeing a two-year contract and being given the freedom to bring current players Jim Goodwin, the club captain, and Gary Teale on to his own coaching team. Craig held initial talks with the St Mirren board on Monday, the day Lennon was informed that his contract was not being renewed, and made no attempt to mask his joy after his appointment had been confirmed in a statement yesterday afternoon.
"I owe Danny the fact he brought me to the club in the first place," said Craig. "I owe him a great deal and I just want to try to build on the foundations Danny laid. I am absolutely delighted. I am really looking forward to working as the manager and we will see where it takes us."
Stewart Gilmour, the club chairman, has refused to detail the exact reasons why Lennon's services were dispensed with, but denied that installing Craig and two members of the playing staff at the helm was a move dictated by costs, with the board seeking to find a buyer for the club. "This is certainly not the cheap option, I can assure you," said Gilmour. "I know accusations have been made because the club is for sale, but they have been awarded two-year contracts and that has had no bearing on it whatsoever."
Gilmour also believes the dressing-room will welcome the continuity provided by Craig rather than have reservations over him taking over from the man who brought him back into the game from nowhere.
"I am sure they will," said Gilmour. "Tommy wants people to come in and train, enjoy it and want to come to their work the same way he does."
Lennon, despite keeping them in the Premier League after arriving from Cowdenbeath, failed to turn St Mirren into a top-six club during his four years in charge. He did, however, win them the League Cup in March of last year. In words unlikely to offer any great comfort, Gilmour backed the 45-year-old to go on and be a success.
"I respect Danny a lot," said Gilmour.
"He has been there for four years and taken us on part of a journey and we thank him for that. I would not like to 'down' Danny in any way and thank him for everything he has done for the club. I am sure he will be a very good manager in the future again."
Craig is often described, not always in
the most complimentary fashion, as one
of the game's great 'survivors'. He began
his coaching career at Hibernian in the mid-1980s and went on to work as assistant at Celtic and Aberdeen as well as running the Scotland Under-21 side and serving as first-team coach at Newcastle United.
He took over briefly, before the appointment of Mixu Paatelainen, as Hibernian caretaker-manager after
John Collins resigned and went on to
rejoin Collins as his assistant at Charleroi
in December 2008.
Craig took over as manager of the Belgian club 11 months later when Collins opted to leave, but was sacked in April 2010 following a dreadful run of 14 defeats in 19 games. Gilmour insists, however, that he is not worried by Craig's lack of experience as
a manager in his own right. "It is not
a concern," he said. "In the same way Tommy has given his vast experience to Danny, I am sure he will do exactly the same with Jim and Gary. It is an exciting time.
The guys in the dressing-room know what their whole ethos is and it is an opportunity for two ambitious and talented guys. These are Tommy's appointments."
Craig's rapid coronation will be officially completed at a press conference later today with Gilmour insisting that, despite receiving a number of approaches from interested parties, they never had any intention of staging a round of interviews for the manager's role.
"Not after we spoke to Tommy, no," said Gilmour. "I think most of the names were
put to us - some of them within 20 minutes. We spoke to Tommy, looked at a number of people put in front of us and felt we had a man there who could do the job for us.
"Tommy's experience is vast. We had
a long chat with him and he gave us his ideas on how he could take the club forward. You are not trying to reinvent the wheel. You just want a little tinkering to try
to keep us moving on."
Gilmour believes Craig can help strengthen the youth system currently in place at the club.