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Referendum result will sway nature of top coaching job in Scottish athletics

Scottishathletics intend to move quickly to replace soon-to-depart ­coaching director Stephen Maguire in a bid to build on the momentum generated by this summer's Commonwealth Games but the outcome of the independence referendum will have a huge bearing on the nature of the role, says the organisation's chief executive, Nigel Holl.

Maguire, who officially steps down next week, is expected to retain an advisory position following his promotion to UK Athletics, where his role as head of power means he will preside over sprints, sprint hurdles and relays. While the initial specification for the vacancy he has created differs little from that when he arrived two years ago, it could be ­radically altered in the wake of a Yes vote on September 18.

"Discussions are under way and I'm positive we'll get the right person," said Holl. "We've had worldwide interest. But this is an interesting time to be recruiting. The job changes if Scotland votes Yes. All of a sudden you're taking a team to a major Games every year. If it's a No, then it's about performance development and we're keen to emphasise that.

"We're taking our time; we want to get it right because Stephen's done a very good job. Some people said when he arrived that it was a post that no-one could fulfil effectively. He's proved them wrong. We knew that [he would]. The good thing is we're keeping him involved, so it's not the end of an era, and we're confident that the next person will build a Phase 2."

The revamp will extend beyond replacing Maguire, though, as the highly-respected head of endurance Mike Johnston retires at the end of this month. With Roger Harkins, long-time coach to Lee McConnell, understood to have declined to throw his hat into the ring, it looks certain that the new technical head will be brought in from outside.

The appointee may profit from ­Maguire's relentless push to scale up the support system for coaches while, potentially, reaping the benefits from a promising crop of young athletes who might yet follow in the footsteps of European Championship medallists Eilidh Child, Lynsey Sharp and Chris O'Hare.

"There is talent there and it's coming through; we saw that especially from those three," Holl said. "But you look at the likes of Beth Potter and Guy Learmonth who have performed well. Whether they've got the potential to take the next step towards world level, only time will tell.

"It's hard. They've got to live the life of elite athletes. They've got to find the best possible coaching, whether it's in Scotland or elsewhere, and you've got other athletes like Laura Muir who we know have the ability. It didn't work for her in ­Glasgow; it didn't work in Zurich. But it will work for her. It's about when, not if."

Others will be challenged to step up. Maguire is thought to have had a frank exchange before Glasgow 2014 with the 400m runner Jamie Bowie, one of only two Scots on the UKA Lottery-funded programme, over his personal ambitions. He was not alone in receiving frank and honest feedback as the Northern Irishman is also understood to have voiced concerns over sportscotland's emphasis on the Commonwealth Games ahead of targeting world-class performance.

The goal, Holl insists, will be to aim for the very highest level. "You have not arrived if you're the best in Scotland or the best in UK," he said. "It's about being the best in Europe or better: the best in the world. If you take someone like Eilidh Child, she absolutely lives the life of an elite athlete. Every decision she takes is to maximise her performance. What an example for younger athletes that is.

"We need more of them. Natural talent alone isn't good enough. You have to also have the psychological commitment, and drive to do everything in your power. That means tough decisions about your life."

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