John Coughlin branded his tenure a “waste”, but he will leave East Stirlingshire in a better state than when he found it three years ago.
That, he says, is down to hard-work by himself and board members who have rebuilt the club in that time.
However he says the financial constraints and a perceived lack of ambition means he felt he had no other option but to reject the club’s offer of an additional year’s contract, walk out on the hard work gone before and thrust himself into the football wilderness.
He slammed the club’s involvement in the Forth Valley Football Academy and youth strategy and felt it undermined his role, and believes new boss Craig Tully has a “helluva job ahead of him” given the new threat of relegation from League Two.
“I’ve been unhappy at things that have went on behind the scenes with the club strategy for next season - they’re keen to get youth development system up and running, but everyone has that aim,” he told Heraldsport in an unflinching interview. “I can’t ever remember us having one person over the past three years moving to do that.
“I know the club has financial constraints no-one knows that more than me. When I came in we were paying £30-a-week and have the smallest budget in Scotland. I knew that at the time – we were lucky to put a team on the park, but the budget for next season in my eyes will not mean the club will improve.
“It’s such a big season in terms of relegation with the Lowland League coming in, unless you’re prepared to build you could find yourself in a whole load of problems. The club has adopted this strategy and are prepared for the chance.”
Coughlin though, was not. He wanted to press on and grab a play-off position he felt was attainable.
“Each team could beat the other in this league this season - we were three games off a play-off place and I believed if we pressed on a little bit more and added a striker we could achieve it.
“I think we could have competed next season, but I was told we’re not big and strong enough yet to push on and should bide our time. I’m in it to win games and a lot of work went on to pick up the pieces when I came in. The progress was slow but we’re getting there and I saw no reason not to take that further next season, but it wasn’t to be.
“It’s coming across as negative but I wish it wasn’t. Good guys at the club built it up and deserve great amounts of credit. But because of what has happened this year I feel my tenure has been a waste. What we’ve built, I think, has been wasted.
“I take jobs at clubs in the bottom of the divisions and turn them round – this is the first club I didn’t get promotion with and we were three games from a play-off place this season. That’s progress and I wanted to build again, but other people saw a different direction.
“Most people leave jobs and have somewhere to go – that’s not the case, so I now face a summer of uncertainty.”
Last summer began those uncertain feelings for the Shire boss when he prepared for season 2013/14. The formation of the Forth Valley Football Academy became affiliated to the Shire and came as a surprise to Coughlin.
“I had no faith in that. It was never part of the plans at the end of the season last year and suddenly it was. I was never part of the process. I never felt it had any benefit to East Stirlingshire whatsoever. We had a reserve team with players to give them a platform, but they were not good enough for my first team, yet board members told me they were.
“I just felt there were too many issues going on and felt interference start to creep in on how to run things and with player recruitment. That was coming out of my hands and I wasn’t having that.
“Once the board start telling you they know better than you and signing young players who would be in the squad – that was a step too far.
“Given the last god knows how many seasons I have worked throughout the summer I am probably due a holiday though. The problem is I don’t have control over how long that is. I’m putting my coaching staff out a job too and that’s a big disappointment.”
He feels he’s due a break. “It’s mentally wearing. The Shire have a small band of supporters but they’re demanding. Even when we were top of the league for three months we were being caned.
“A lot of hard work has gone on over the last three years by a lot of people, but I feel it’s been wasted.”