A call from Harry Redknapp and getting to know the ‘iconic’ Sean O’Driscoll

I think I probably need to be up front about Sean O’Driscoll. I really liked him. I liked him as a manager, and I liked him as a bloke to talk to.

There are some managers who you really don’t like, but you can respect that they’re very good at their jobs – whilst there’ll be others who you don’t think are very good at their jobs, but are great to deal with.

In truth, the vast majority are in between those two.

Whilst I was at BBC Radio Nottingham, I tried not to let my thoughts shine through.

What does it matter if I think Fred Bloggs is a good manager? That’s not my judgment to make. That’s yours. I can try and present the facts as best I can, and then let you – as a fan – decide your own opinion.

If you remember, O’Driscoll had been at the club as a coach, and had helped Steve Cotterill keep Forest in the Championship in the 2011/12 season.

It was one of new owner Fawaz Al-Hasawi’s first decisions.

Contrary to what was being briefed at the time, Cotterill had been fired and the Kuwaiti began the search for “an iconic manager”.

It was certainly contrary to what Cotterill thought was going to happen – he’d travelled to meet Al-Hasawi armed with plenty of ideas of signings to be made, and the best way ahead for the club.

There were plenty of big-name managers linked with the job – including Harry Redknapp and Mick McCarthy.

I remember getting hold of both of their numbers to ask about the Forest job.

Neither answered, so I left messages for both. I didn’t expect to hear anything from those calls, but you go through the formalities in the hope that they might answer. 

What I didn’t expect was for Redknapp to call back!

“Oh, hi Harry,” I said in the newsroom. Cue startled looks from those around my desk.

He’d called me back to say that he wasn’t interested in the job. It was a lovely moment, and made a good story that day. And huge respect to Redknapp for making the call.

It was thought that Glenn Hoddle and Sven-Goran Eriksson were also interested in the role, so when Forest appointed O’Driscoll, one of the obvious questions was about his ‘iconic’ status.

Remember, he’d left the City Ground to become Crawley Town manager earlier in the summer.

I’d not met O’Driscoll before his appointment as manager. He had been very much in the background under Cotterill and – from the outside – seemed content to be in the shadows.

So it came as a bit of a surprise when he wandered up to me for a chat, before he sat at the top table ahead of his appointment.

I can’t remember in great detail what we spoke about, except that I made a joke about him being an ‘iconic’ manager.

“Most of the icons I know are dead,” he said.

We laughed, and I suggested he use that line in the press conference. We both knew he was going to get asked about it.

After a few minutes, he hadn’t been asked – so I asked. And he gave the response, to much merriment. 

The stick I received on Twitter that day was laughable – keyboard warriors thought that it was a ridiculous question, that O’Driscoll had put me in my place, I’d embarrassed myself etc etc. If only they knew at the time!

Colleagues elsewhere in the BBC had told me that Sean was good to deal with, but it wouldn’t be easy at first.

In their experience, it had taken them about six weeks, and then suddenly the barriers would come down and you’d be in for life. And that’s exactly what happened.

I think he was a shy guy, who didn’t really like the politics of football and didn’t like to be the showman and frontman that a manager has to be these days.

He just seemed to like teaching – whether that was teaching players how to be better, teaching his team how he wanted them to play, or teaching people like me about the game.

In the days when he was the manager, pre-match interviews with managers and players took place at the Nigel Doughty Academy – rather than at The City Ground – and usually on a Thursday lunchtime.

All press conferences moved to The City Ground when Billy Davies returned for a second spell as manager, and they’ve been there ever since.

That’s a great shame, because it was very useful for a journalist to be around players and managers in a more informal setting.

You’d have a little chat with them as they came off the training ground – not about anything newsworthy really, just how their kids were, how they were getting on recovering from injury etc. 

What it also meant was that you got to spend time with managers before and after an interview – this was very useful indeed.

You got an insight into their thinking; they may tell you things off the record which would help you understand where they were coming from. In short, you got to know them more as a human being. In my job, that helps.

O’Driscoll was different in that he’d educate you about what he was thinking. I learned more about coaching and playing the game from O’Driscoll than any other manager I dealt with. 

He talked a lot about “the inner chimp” – from what I remember, the way the mind works without thinking about it – and how that was important in a footballer.

It was also fascinating how he went about choosing an assistant manager, or his coaching staff.

O’Driscoll would rate his own characteristics – What was he good at? What did he think he wasn’t good at?

He’d then appoint an assistant manager who had the opposite traits.

He genuinely opened my mind to a different way of thinking. I obviously loved it, and I think he enjoyed teaching it too. 

Photos: Dan Westwell

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4 thoughts on “A call from Harry Redknapp and getting to know the ‘iconic’ Sean O’Driscoll

  1. O’Driscoll was a throughly good bloke. When my friend Rowan was doing the first of his charity runs from the City Ground to away games, we parked up to wait for him at Peterborough…. and just so happened to be parked next to Sean’s partner. She asked what we were up to…. next thing we knew the manager had got the coaching staff and players involved with donations and even a sponsored cycle to Leicester. He didn’t need to do any of that. A gentleman, cruelly and wrongly fired.

  2. I though SOD was a great coach – if I remember rightly we were still going south under Coterill and the football was dire. SOD came in and changed that (a bit). Always wondered if he commanded enough respect from the players. But ditching Coterill was the best decision Fawaz ever made, and I think SOD was a really good appointment for where we were at the time.

    Oh, and ignore the keyboard warriors. We have plenty of them and they are imbeciles who moan at everything!

  3. A smelled a rat when the Kuwatis came knocking. S ODs ludicrous dismissal only confirmed it and what followed over the next couple of seasons was shocking.

  4. I forget the exact wording, but on his return to Forest as the winning opposite manager he praised the club, the staff, the fans and the players and notably didn’t praise the owner. It was a point well made.

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