5 candidates to replace Keith Hill as Rochdale manager

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 05 March 2019, 09:06

Keith Hill will always be a Rochdale legend for his work at the club over two stints of a combined 11 years, including two of the three promotions the club has achieved in its history in that time.

However, new chairman Andrew Kilpatrick has perhaps made the right decision to preserve Hill’s legacy.

What next for the club in danger of relegation from League One?

Here’s five candidates to take the helm...

Click here for the next Rochdale manager market

1. Paul Hurst

Why he should get the job

Rochdale’s main weakness this season has been their back-line.

They have conceded 74 goals in 35 games, giving them by far the worst defensive record in the division.

Sometimes the problem has been dealing with simple crosses into the box, at other times, it has been assigning holding midfield duties to Callum Camps, who is reasonably good in possession but lacks the physicality for that role - especially for a dogfight.

One of the things Hurst would do is instantly re-organize Dale, which is what he did when he took over at Shrewsbury Town, who were in a similar situation back in November 2016.

The key to that relative success was fitness - Salop did not quite have the technical proficiency of some of their competitors, but they more than made up for that by cleverly co-ordinated, and at times ferocious, pressing.

Plus, Hurst has helped convert Aristote Nsiala, who some would perceive to be a League Two centre-back at best, into a key component of a side at the top of League One.

Ryan Delaney has similar commitment to last-ditch blocks to Nsiala while Ethan Ebanks-Landell has an element of physicality about him; perhaps Hurst could work his magic on those out-of-form defenders.


Why he shouldn’t

Hurst tends to recruit experienced players from a division or two below; six of his 14 additions for Salop came from a lower league and were over 25.

That might not be the main issue for Rochdale currently, because Hurst would be brought in with the prime aim of keeping the club in League One.

For him to be convinced to join, however, he may need to be given a contract that extends beyond the current campaign and therefore the club would be committing themselves to a recruitment policy that goes against the principles on which they have enjoyed success.

No Shrewsbury academy graduates started a single league game in Hurst’s 2017-18 campaign.

When we consider how important the youth setup will be to Rochdale’s long-term future – more of which anon - that does not seem ideal.

The Sack Race’s Verdict

Hurst undoubtedly has qualities – but Rochdale would likely need to promise him unsustainable amounts of money to attract him to Spotland and it would not be worth the risk.

2. Darrell Clarke

Why he should get the job

Including success with Salisbury, Hurst has done some excellent things in management.

Not only did his Bristol Rovers side, in 2014-15, become the first team in the 21st century to go up from the National League a year after relegation, they then completed back-to-back promotions.

He inspired excellent form in midfielders like Ollie Clarke and Chris Lines; he would inherit a Dale squad with a potentially reasonable midfield with Stephen Dooley’s link play and Ethan Hamilton’s dynamism.

If Callum Camps can get closer to his circa 2016 form and the absence of a natural anchor man can be remedied when Oliver Rathbone gets back fit, then perhaps a Dale side led by Clarke could begin to impose themselves on more games.

Plus, Clarke is a very honest, candid and forthright manager, which means that he tends to connect with vocal, battle-hardened professionals – especially when he works with a group over a long period.

Why he shouldn’t

Where Clarke had trouble was with evolving the group that had won the Gasheads back-to-back promotions, when he and they moved higher up.

As that core began to break up, Clarke has either been found wanting in terms of recruitment (in which case one or two other people at Rovers are responsible for this), or his motivational methods has not worked quite as well with players based higher in the English football pyramid – possibly an element of both.

15 of Rochdale’s 19 signings in 2018-19 have come from players based at clubs in the top two divisions in English football – and presumably the club would look to develop their relationship with clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United for potential loan deals.

A large proportion of the above 15 players are likely to have been schooled in a relatively forgiving academy system and would need gentle encouragement to ease the transition into the senior game.

Quite whether Clarke can alter his style of man management to suit the needs of different players remains to be seen.

The Sack Race’s Verdict

On paper, Clarke is one of the best managers Rochdale could appoint – but if they were to commit to him beyond the end of the current campaign, they would need to do so with some acknowledgement of how that would impact their transfer policy.

3. Kevin Nolan

Why he should get the job

He’s a very passionate manager, which is something Rochdale fans might appreciate after the Keith Hill love affair had run its course.

Nolan has the charisma to potentially re-energize the club, which he did initially at Leyton Orient and Notts County – he led the latter to the play-offs in his only full season as a manager.

Plus, when the former Newcastle midfielder celebrates a victory, he often gives his players a big hug, which might have a positive psychological impact on youngsters.

He has experience of a relegation battle, having kept Notts County up in 2016-17; plus, he likes two up top which is probably the best way of incorporating powerful grafter Calvin Andrew and serial goalscorer Ian Henderson in the same eleven.

Why he shouldn’t

Having played under Sam Allardyce at Bolton, Newcastle and West Ham, Nolan likes direct football – albeit a high-tempo version.

Rochdale have enjoyed promotion in 2013-14, then three consecutive top half League One finishes plus numerous FA Cup runs under Hill by playing possession football.

Plus, although finishing in the play-offs with Notts County last season looks a good achievement on paper, it is difficult to ignore the decline his side saw in the second half of the campaign.

In fact, the poor start to the following campaign meant that only seven of Nolan’s final 25 games as Notts County manager ended in victory, with his side losing at relegated Barnet and Chesterfield in that sequence.

The Sack Race’s Verdict

The club would have little to lose by offering Nolan a deal until the end of the season, because cost would be minimal and he is the type of figure who may potentially galvanize the club for a late charge. Whether he is the man to take them further long-term could be reviewed in May.

4. Brian Barry-Murphy and Tony Ellis (current caretakers)

Why they should get the job

Firstly, Barry-Muphy has been at Rochdale since 2010; he has seen the club while at it’s peak and have an idea of the methods that brought that success.

Secondly, Ellis is the current academy manager; and the youth setup is one of the things Rochdale are currently getting right.

Midfielder Daniel Adshead played at Wembley last season, having reportedly done his school homework on the coach to certain games that same year.

Right-back Luke Matheson recently became the club’s youngest ever player in an EFL Trophy game this term, before going on to make substitute appearances in the league – and with Joe Rafferty gone, the door is open for Matheson to start to establish himself in the squad.

Plus, defender Juwon Hamzat, midfielder Florent Hoti and forward Fabio Tavares are also players to get very excited about in an Under-18s side that are bossing their league.


That is a rare phenomenon, because most lower league youth teams struggle due to their best players either being in the first team or pinched by metaphorical piranhas.

Barry-Murphy and Ellis, if they wanted control, would cost very little - which might not be a bad thing, considering the club have had to pay Hill’s contract with three and a half years left.

If the club were to get relegated, they could commit to a long-term youth development project to reduce the average age of the current squad and develop saleable assets before re-investing.

Why they shouldn’t

Although fans are likely to respect the work Barry-Murphy and Ellis have done for Rochdale, neither have done it in a high-profile capacity.

Barry-Murphy has spent much of his time there as a fringe midfielder while Ellis has been working predominantly behind the scenes, so scope for a romantic impact would be relatively limited.

Plus, neither have any experience in senior management.

Kilpatrick has only just taken control from Chris Dunphy and while natives have given him some credit for making the brave decision to call time on Hill’s tenure, appointing Barry-Murphy and Ellis would see him perceived as taking the cheap option.

The Sack Race’s Verdict

Unless the duo have an incredible instant impact in caretaker charge – and they may not even get the opportunity to oversee a game – the club would be better off looking elsewhere for a figurehead, although both could play a part in the new regime.

5. Lee Carsley

Why he should get the job

Carsley has overseen victory in nine of his last 18 games as a caretaker manager, across stints with Coventry, Brentford and Birmingham.

The former midfielder always showed great leadership qualities as a player and laid the foundations very nicely for Dean Smith at Griffin Park, before steadying the ship at Birmingham last season.

He was assistant to Steve Cotterill at Blues and, when the manager was dismissed in March, Carsley resigned by choice because he did not think it fair that he should keep his job when someone else did – that shows he is a man of principle and integrity.

Plus, Carsley’s other main qualities are his coaching ability and capacity to develop young players, gaining credit for the development of the likes of James Tarkowski, Ryan Woods and John Swift with Brentford, plus Demarai Gray, Will Hughes and Lewis Baker with England Under-21s.

Why he shouldn’t

Previously, Carsley has shied away from taking a permanent manager’s position.

It remains to be seen, therefore, whether he would want to leave his role as a specialist national coach for England Under-21s to take the extra heat as a gaffer.

Carsley certainly could not do a similar role to Hill in terms of having a handle on lots of departments within a football club, because that is not what he wants to focus on.

It could be that Rochdale, who might not have the funds to employ a high number of staff members, need a manager capable of multi-tasking rather than just focusing on coaching.

The Sack Race’s Verdict

Carsley has been with England U21s for two years and it might be that he does not get to work with players as often as he would like, in which case he might consider a change of scene.

For it to work though, Rochdale would need to be happy just to appoint an excellent coach at the helm and delegate other aspects of the job to different people. If that fits their strategy, Carsley would be one of the best possible options potentially available – but it might be that they need a jack-of-all-trades.

Managers Departed

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Graham Westley
Graham Westley
16th February
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