The Paul Warne Interview: The Rotherham United boss on good days, bad days and pay days

Paul WarnePaul Warne
Paul Warne
HE’D barely slept in nearly six months as caretaker boss, he'd made himself ill trying to improve the relegation team left by Alan Stubbs and Kenny Jackett, his family life was a mess.

No way was Paul Warne ever going to accept the offer to be the next full-time manager of Rotherham United.

He'd had enough. He wanted to be the fitness coach again.

Then chairman Tony Stewart, who could see more in Warne than Warne could see in himself, came up with a simple question.

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“He asked me if I thought all the bosses who had gone before me were better people or better man-managers than me,” the 45-year-old recalls.

The former Millers playing legend took the bait. And the job. This month marks the second anniversary of his time in charge.

He won League One promotion in his first full season and experienced the thrill of winning a play-off final at Wembley. But he doesn't forget.

“Looking back to that period in the Championship, I feel sorry for myself,” he says and has to pause to compose himself. “I do, Mate, because ... because it was tough. It really was.

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“When you turn up every week and feel like you're going to get beaten, you can't show the lads that and you can't show the fans that. You have to be positive in all your press conferences.

“When you do the press, you know the players are listening to it and reading it and you know the owners and fans are as well. They want you to be that positive spark. Deep down, you know you're doomed.

“Until you've done the job, you have no idea what it entails. I've worked for managers and played for managers I had little sympathy for. But I have sympathy for them all now. It's a unique job. You do not think about anything else.

Paul Warne with the Advertiser's Paul Davis

“Alan Knill, a pal of mine who was once manager here and is now with Chris Wilder at Sheffield United, got interviewed recently and he said his missus used to say to him: 'You're in 4-4-2 mode again.'

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“When you're a coach or a fitness coach, you can turn off from it. As a manager, you can't. There are hardly any minutes of the day when my brain doesn't think about the team.”

Just as Stewart had posed a question, Warne had to ask one of himself. When Rotherham lost, he would sit at home on Saturday surrounded by family but alone, closing himself off to the people he loved. How could he stop hurting them?

“I'm a lot better at boxing it off now,” he says. “I try to get all my phone calls done to all the important people at the club before I go home after a match now.

“I feel like I'm more 'present' at home. I speak to the chairman a few evenings a week, but that's fine because my kids aren't around me then, and I speak to him more often than not on Sunday mornings.

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“We speak pretty early when I'm watching my son play football, then I've got the rest of the day to myself. I try to leave my coaches alone if it's a Sunday when we're not in even if there is something I really want to speak about. I think: 'Just leave it until Monday.'

“That allows me to live more in the moment with the kids, which is great. They've got their dad back. I don't sit there with my hood up in a complete sulk anymore.

“Maybe because of my dad's failing health, I Iook at mortality. Life's too short. If we lose a football game and I waste my whole evening — although I want to — it's not fair on my family. I'm a bit more aware of that.

“If we lost on Saturday and we were in the bottom three, it wouldn't be an enjoyable Saturday night but I'd try, try, try as hard as I could not to be a bad dad.

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“My wife always drives my kids to games and I never go home with them. I always drive myself home which allows me to speak my coaches, speak to the chairman, speak to Paul Douglas (chief operating officer), speak to Steve Coakley (commercial director). That way I feel like I've addressed everything before I go home. That definitely helps me.”

Two journeys began in the car-park at the Millers' Roundwood training complex on November 28 2016: Jackett's out of Rotherham after just 39 days and Warne's into despair as he was let down by some of the senior pros he inherited.

“I remember it quite well,” the boss says. “I saw Kenny as he was about to drive off and he said that he was leaving. I really like Kenny. I learned quite a bit from him. Not intentionally — because I never had any intention of being a manager — but sub-consciously I took certain things in. I've done that with all my managers.

“I didn't have any fear. I think I was excited about doing it to begin with because I thought I was just a short-term fix. I've seen many managers come and go here so I thought one would be in place before the (Burton Albion) game that weekend. My initial thought was just to enjoy it.

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“I think in the two years we've improved a lot of things. To begin with, it was just me, Hammy (coach Matt Hamshaw) and Dibbs (goalkeeping coach Andy Dibble) really plus the physios. That wasn't enough staff for the Championship. I was fitness coach and manager. You can't really get respect in both roles at the same time. It was too much work.

“It was just depressing that we'd picked up a group that had got used to losing. I'm not saying it was all of them, but a few didn't have an intention of changing it.”

Relegation from the second tier was inevitable and came on April 1 2017. Four days later, Stewart asked his question and Warne gave the answer which would lead to a Championship return little more than 12 months later.

“I had a good relationship with the chairman because I never lied to him,” the manager says. “I was totally honest with him. I still am. I've never even told him a half-lie.

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“I knew the chairman liked me being in charge even though, on the playing side, I was being thrown to the wolves every week.

“I think the reason I didn't get sacked — anyone who had come in from outside and had the results I had would have lost their job — was my relationship with the club. I think they thought: 'Let's just get to the summer and let him have a go at it then.'

“Even then, I turned it down on numerous occasions. I wasn't convinced I could do it. The chairman was the one who convinced me I had all the traits.”

Rotherham are standing up to the challenge of being in the Championship and head to Blackburn Rovers on Saturday unbeaten in four games and in 18th place. The bond between owner and manager remains strong but Warne never looks too far ahead.

I ask him where he'll be in another two years.

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“That's a difficult one,” he says after another pause. “I'd like to think I'll still be involved in football.

“At work, we star pay day on the calendar and we always think if we win a game we can get to the next pay day. We joke about surviving to the next one.

“Everyone has different skills. My skill-set is definitely suited to working with people. Hopefully, in two years I'll still be sat here happily at this club.

“If I'm still here, I'd presume we're in the Championship and producing football the chairman likes to watch. If we're still doing that, me, my staff and the players we've got must have been doing a pretty good job.

“Can we get to another pay day?”

Two years on, the man who was tempted by a simple question is being driven by one.

This feature first appeared in last Friday's Advertiser