Wolves faced a leadership dilemma over Mick McCarthy: what might the board have done differently?

Terry Connor


One of the most difficult dilemmas facing a sporting business occurs if the board decides that a leadership change is necessary. Wolves FC serves as a case study.

The pressures on the board at Wolves FC mounted as the team struggled to escape relegation [Jan 2012]. Mick McCarthy as head coach bore the brunt of the anger from frustrated fans. The board decides to fire McCarthy. After some delay the chairman announces the appointment of Terry Connor, McCarthy’s assistant

The dilemma: terms of engagement

The difficulties facing the board must have been relatively easy to simplify into finding a decisive course of action to kick-start a reversal of fortunes. Firing McCarthy and bringing in a new chief coach would offer the prospects of radical change. On the other hand, firing McCarthy would leave the club with the possibility that any high-calibre manager would be in a strong position to negotiate advantageous terms.

Intended and unintended consequences

The intended consequences of firing McCarthy would be renewed support from the fans and players alike. The unintended consequences included the possibility that no deal could be brokered. Also, as McCarthy argued, he had several exceptional seasons at Wolves working with limited resources. His dismissal would have sent warning signals to prospective managers

The fall-back position

Under such circumstances, a board needs some holding position. Wolves first indicated their intention of finding an experienced replacement for McCarthy. It seems several such candidates were approached. Eventually the club announced an interim appointment. McCarthy’s deputy Terry Connor would be promoted with the possibility of a full-time contract, according to results.

Just like the appointment of Stuart Pearce by the FA?

There appear to be some similarities to the position facing the English FA recently [2012] as the contract with current manager Fabio Capello approaches its termination date. There has been media clamour for appointment of Tottenham’s Harry Redknapp. The FA decided to go for a holding position, appointing Steward Pearce as an interim manager.

When the two cases are compared, it is seem that the FA could (for once) be seen as avoiding a tricky premature decision. Redknapp has shown interest in taking a part-time appointment. And there is some evidence of longer-term planning. Pearce as youth team coach has been seen as being groomed as a possible future England manager. On the other hand, Connor’s interim appointment could have been made immediately as the unfortunate McCarthy was being relieved of his duties. It appeared to follow failed attempts by the board to attract an experienced manager to the club.

Leadership issues

The case raises interesting issues. There is the tricky question of promoting someone who was himself appointed by the manager that had just been fired. There is the issue of the ways in which a change can appear to have been mishandled. This is where students of leadership may find it useful to think themselves in the minds of the board and assess the likely dilemmas they faced.
An additional issue: The appointment of a black manager to Premier League football is surely worthy of comment. The press broadly avoided comment on the story. Which maybe itself is worth a little reflection..

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One Response to Wolves faced a leadership dilemma over Mick McCarthy: what might the board have done differently?

  1. An eureka from me for understanding FA management maps.

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