Whoever Ross County appoint, they will have to recruit swiftly and accurately to compete in an even stronger Scottish Premiership.
John Maxwell, who writes a weekly column on the Staggies for the Press and Journal, was surprised John Hughes and the Dingwall club parted ways on Monday.
But he expects his replacement will have his work cut out to move the club higher than their 10th-place finish.
The job of replacing the man who kept County up has already started, but there is little room for error in a top league that now includes Hearts and Dundee in place of Hamilton and Kilmarnock.
Identity crucial for the chairman’s next move
John said: “It gives Ross County the opportunity to cast the net wide. I am guessing Roy MacGregor has a vision for how he wants to see the club operate over the next two to three years. Maybe that didn’t align with what John wanted to do.
“In the Ross County TV show on Sunday, Roy was talking about taking stock of what the club’s identity is going to be from now on.
“Does that mean, we continue to develop and nurture your own talent within the coaching staff?
“If that’s the case then the job might be open for Don Cowie to be the manager or Richard Brittain to take over. Both have at the very least trained for their UEFA Pro Licences.
“I could see the board going for an internal appointment again on the basis they know what the club is about.
Experienced boss would need to fit the bill
“On the flip side, given how competitive the top-flight is going to be with the likes of Hearts coming up, who will be stronger, and now a buoyant Dundee promoted, next season will arguably be the most competitive top-flight there has been in a number of years. Certainly that would be the case in the bottom half of the table.
“The vision might be to stay up at all costs, in which case it might need an experienced manager. It might mean recruiting a number of players from further afield.”
While John appreciates the qualities Hughes clearly brought to Victoria Park, he feels perhaps his ability to recruit high quality players from scratch was a concern.
He explained: “I expected that John would be offered the job and he would take it. Had that happened, I thought he would then have the opportunity to reshape the squad as he saw fit.
“There are around 20 players in the squad out of contract. He would have had a relatively blank canvas in that respect.
“John has got a really good reputation as a coach and you can see the benefits he brought to the club. He won eight league matches in his time here. If you carry that on throughout a whole season then that would put Ross County in a very respectable position in the table.
“However, while he has a good reputation in terms of coaching and management taking over a squad that he’s inherited, his track record doesn’t look so good when it comes to having to rebuild a side.”
Hughes threw everything into the job since replacing Stuart Kettlewell in December and that included being away from his family in Edinburgh.
John insists that must have been tough on the man who won the Scottish Cup for Inverness six years ago.
He said: “Another aspect of what has happened is that it was a massive commitment from him to stay up here away from his family.
“It’s not been like pre-pandemic when you could be based here for four or five nights and commute to see his family. He has come up here and was isolated from his family.
“Although technology is a wonderful thing these days, there is no substitute for seeing your family on a regular basis.”
Exciting times for Staggies’ supporters
Although it’s an uncertain time for all at County, John admits: “The summer is going to be exciting from a fans’ point of view.
“Whether we are looking at contract renewals or taking in new players there is going to be lots of movement within the playing staff.
“As a fan, you are always keen to learn the signing news in the papers or social media.
“When the dust settles at the end of pre-season, you get a sign of what kind of shape the squad is in for the next year.
“I am under no illusions that this is going to be a really hard season, but the opportunity is there for a new manager with potentially a brand-new squad to reshape it and try to improve upon what has happened over the last few years.”
JOHN HUGHES LEAVES @RossCounty 🦌
🔵Does surprise exit mean Tannadice move? How have Staggies fans reacted?
🔵Where do County look now in bid for progress – Don Cowie? John Kennedy? Stephen Robinson?
— P&J Sport (@PandJSport) May 25, 2021