Stanley have admitted it was a tough call to overlook former manager John Coleman and appoint James Beattie as the new Reds boss.
Swiftly after Leam Richardson’s departure, Coleman and his assistant Jimmy Bell made it clear they were interested in returning to the club.
The pair spent more 12 years at the Stanley helm before leaving for Rochdale in January 2012 and Coleman was among seven candidates interviewed for the vacant manager’s position on Monday.
But it was Beattie who later got the call from chairman Peter Marsden after the Reds’ board again opted to hand the opportunity to a young, ambitious manager – just as they did when appointing Richardson last November.
“John and Jimmy were among the frontrunners,” said Stanley’s managing director Rob Heys.
“Although the interview process was an experience, you’re also very wary of the fact that it’s having an impact on people’s lives.
“It was very hard having to appoint somebody different. It made it a very tough decision.
“I don’t think that’s to their detriment, I think it’s just a case of James knowing the club as it is now.
“It was a thorough process and James was the one that stood out.”
Although Stanley did ultimately make an internal appointment, the Reds welcomed the opportunity to assess the 40 genuine applications they received before settling on a seven-man shortlist at the end of last week.
“It was different this time,” Heys said. “The last two times we had to appoint a manager, Paul Cook sprung to mind straight away as we’d kept an eye on him once he left Accrington, and similarly when Paul left, Leam was an obvious choice because he’d been assistant manager. Again, he knew the players, he knew the club, he knew the way we worked.
“This time we had a blank canvas to work from, which is why we invited applicants, sifted through them and drew up a shortlist. We probably followed the procedure you should follow in terms of having interviews and picking the best man for the job.
“It’s a really important decision to get right,” he added. “It’s such a key appointment. It’s the person that’s going to lead your team on the pitch and lead a lot of things off it as well, hopefully for the next two, three, four years or so.”
Beattie has signed a two-year contract and as he’s a managerial rookie, Heys stressed the 35-year-old will be given time to succeed, like Richardson was when Stanley slipped into relegation trouble this year.
“We always see it as a long-term appointment at Accrington,” he said.
“The last two managers we had have left probably sooner than we would have liked. But I think any manager we have enjoys a lot of support. We’re probably a bit different from other clubs in that we acknowledge we’re a small club punching above our weight and the only way we can stay in the Football League is by pulling together, and I think we showed that at the end of last season.
“Whoever the manager is, we give them our full backing. When things go well, that’s fantastic and we enjoy it as a club. When things don’t go as well, we come together and work hard to put it right between us.”
Beattie’s status as a former England international means his appointment has inevitably raised the profile of the club, but Stanley insist the former Everton and Southampton striker wasn’t appointed just because he’s a big name.
“It’s a big help that he knows the club,” Heys added.
“For anyone coming in, it makes it a lot easier if they know the club and know what we’re about.
“We are a unique club, I think it’s fair to say, in the way that we do things and in the way we manage to punch above our weight and stay in the Football League.
“James also came across very well in terms of what he wants to do taking the club forward and he’s got a great attitude, a great mentality.
“Again, it’s not just something that came across in the interview.
“We’ve had him since November last year and while he’s been good on the pitch, he’s also been a fantastic influence around the place.
“Certainly when we had a very young squad, he was fantastic at instilling the belief and the confidence which eventually helped to keep us up.”
After leaving Sheffield United last summer, Beattie was still without a club when Richardson invited his old friend to join Stanley on a player-coach role last November and the Reds’ board recognised it wasn’t just Beattie’s on-field impact that helped secure League survival.
“It was very much a joint effort,” said Heys. “Leam spearheaded it but he had a fantastic coaching team behind him as well.
“It was all about belief. I think people thought we were being daft a couple of times because we said we didn’t actually think about relegation.
“It wasn’t something we could afford to dwell on and I think anyone who was around the club before the end of the season, they thought we were pushing for the play-offs, as daft as it sounds, because there was that much optimism and positivity around.
“I think, ultimately, that’s what helped keep us up and I think James will carry that on. I’m sure he’ll be able to help convince some of the players we’ve had to stay and he’s got some fantastic contacts.
“He’s played at the highest level so knows a lot of people in football and, certainly when it comes to playing the loan market, you’d like to think he could pull in a few favours and bring in some good players.”
Richardson’s assistant Paul Stephenson was also interviewed for the top job but is happy to continue as assistant to Beattie.
And his experience will prove invaluable to the new boss as Beattie is yet to earn the required coaching badges. He is set to begin a course for a UEFA ‘B’ licence this summer in order to satisfy the Football League.
“We see that as a formality,” Heys explained. “We spoke to the Football League and obviously he’s got to get enrolled on his courses now and get those out of the way.
“Just from speaking to him you find he’s a very intelligent lad, he’s very well educated, his experience in the game is without question.
“He’s worked under some great managers as well.
“It’s important he gets those badges because they’re part of the rules and regulations of the League, but I don’t think not having them will hold him back.”
Ian Dunbavin has signed a new two-year deal with Stanley, which sees the keeper remain as the longest-serving player at the club. The 32-year-old has made 164 appearances since joining the Reds from Halifax in 2006.