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Maguire exit brings its problems but also creates opportunities

Congratulations are due to Stephen Maguire, the scottishathletics director of coaching who is moving to UK Athletics as head of power with responsibility for sprints, sprint hurdles and relays.

Toni Minichiello, highly regarded coach of Jessica Ennis, is one of several in the frame for the Scottish job. Picture: PA
Toni Minichiello, highly regarded coach of Jessica Ennis, is one of several in the frame for the Scottish job. Picture: PA

It is a deserved step up the ladder and will come as no surprise to readers of Herald Sport which exclusively predicted the appointment a month ago.

Maguire has made a significant impression in 17 months. Some may consider the qualifying standards set for Glasgow 2014 to have been soft but greater depth of quality from Scottish athletes has undeniably been seen in the past 12 months than at any other time in recent years. That is down to Maguire.

In addition to focusing on coach education - despite the sport's numbingly mindless decision to axe one of the most highly-regarded coaching conferences in the world, hosted by Glasgow - his ability to modify the mindset of Scotland's leading competitors and rise to the 2014 challenge has been his greatest achievement.

Yet it is little short of catastrophic that Scotland is now advertising for a fourth head coach/director of coaching in 38 months. Laurier Primeau, Steve Rippon and Maguire have each filled the role since January 2011. The first of these, the Canadian Primeau,was in post for just 15 months. He arrived less than a year before the Delhi Commonwealth Games where the successes of Scottish athletes proceeded to mirror the listless silver and bronze medals of the two previous Games.

Though Maguire will remain until after Glasgow 2014 (he joins UKA at the beginning of September) his impending departure cannot have other than an unsettling effect. His professionalism will surely prevent him from taking his eye off the ball as he prepares to move on but athletes need continuity and consistency of policies and development. They look to the head coach for this, and never more so than when preparing for their only Commonwealth Games on home soil.

This is neither Maguire's fault, nor that of scottishathletics. Having been headhunted by UKA, Maguire would be daft not to accept the chance to better himself and tackle new challenges. One must respect his ambition and, once he had submitted his notice, the governing body was obliged to seek a successor.

Yet the tenure of former coaches such as Tony Chapman, John Anderson and Frank Dick lasted for many years. None of them regarded the Scottish job as a stepping stone, but that is what it has now become.

It would be comforting to think Scotland might now attract a coach who will regard this as a prestigious post. Rapid recent turnover might lead one to conclude the post is a poisoned chalice akin to those of football clubs with a comparable managerial casualty list.

The athletics post would, of course, have considerably greater cachet were Scotland an independent nation. The governing body need to consider that they may be appointing a coach who will be charged with taking the country's athletes to the 2016 Olympic Games.

The new incumbent must be a leader. Lateral thinking is not banned. It's worth noting that the head of track and field in France is a wrestler, yet those who recall the judo player Dave Collins as UKA director of coaching might see that as a recipe for disaster.

Yannick Tregaro and Terseus Liebenberg both made a favourable impact on the European Coaches' Association International Federation of Athletics Coaching conferences in Glasgow. Tregaro is the Swede who steered the careers of the triple jumper Christian Olsson and high jumper Kajsa Bergqvist, while Liebenburg, a South African, is a throws specialist who coached the former world javelin champion Marius Corbett. With a question mark over the future of the pregnant Olympic heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis, her stellar coach, Toni Minichiello, should not be out of the equation.

There has been no Scots-born coaching director/head of performance since the former Commonwealth discus champion Meg Ritchie resigned in 2001, less than nine months before the Manchester Commonwealth Games. Citing "negative attitudes" she did not even stay for the Games.

It must be a huge disincentive to Scottish coaches to feel branded inadequate before the off, and it is to be hoped the sport might have the courage to seek a home-grown appointment. One Scot capable of taking on the role would be Tom Boyle, but persuading the mentor of the former European and world champions Yvonne Murray and Tom McKean to come out of retirement seems a non-runner.

Roger Harkins (coach of Lee McConnell) and Darren Ritchie (currently on Scotland's full-time staff) could grow into the role. So might former the Olympic silver medallist Elliott Bunney, who is coaching in South Africa.

No clear development pathway or education programme exists for an athletics coach with national coach aspirations. The attributes of the latter are alien to those of the personal coach, every bit as much as they are for the international football team manager who is invariably a former club manager. Club managers see their charges every day. The international manager will do well to see his players any more than 20 days a year.

Scottishathletics must find a new director capable of quality leadership and sustained excellence, and the mindset to achieve it. The biggest challenge for the governing body will be to discover the ability not to interfere. And the first principle of the new incumbent should be that of Maguire: not to coach any individual athlete.

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