NIGEL Pearson and Sean Dyche may be the leading candidates to win the Championship manager of the year prize at tonight’s League Managers Association Annual Awards Dinner on the banks of the River Thames.
But if Keith Hill had his way Blackburn Rovers boss Gary Bowyer would be rivalling the promotion-winning bosses for the honour.
Former Rovers defender Hill, who is in line to win the League Two award after a historic season with Rochdale, understands why Leicester’s Pearson and Burnley’s Dyche are considered favourites after leading their sides into the Premier League.
But he firmly believes the job Bowyer has done at his old club should not be underestimated.
The Rochdale manager has been amazed by the way Bowyer, in his first full season as a senior boss, has transformed Rovers from a club which had been ripped apart from within and which had gone dangerously close to a second successive relegation to one which went desperately close to a place in the play-offs.
“I think Gary has done a magnificent job when you consider the mess Blackburn were in when he took over,” said Hill, who was part of the Rovers squad which won promotion to the Premier League in 1992.
“I really have to tip my hat to him and to his staff.
“There’s been a big turnaround of players but he’s continued to make steady, steady progress on the football pitch, picking up good results to give themselves a chance of getting into the play-offs.
“So I think he’s done a remarkable job and for me he’s got to be one of the nominations for manager of the year in the Championship.
“And I like the way he’s gone about, silent almost. He’s gone under the radar at times but he’s made massive progress on the whole.
“You read rumours that people like Tim Sherwood could be coming in etc etc.
“But I’m just so glad Blackburn Rovers have put their faith in Gary – and they should continue to put their faith in Gary as he’s an excellent manager/coach and I’m sure they will have success with him.”
Rochdale have certainly enjoyed success under Hill.
He returned to the League Two outfit in January 2013 after an 18-month spell in the Championship as boss of Barnsley, a spell which ended on December 29, 2012, after the Tykes lost 3-1 at home to Rovers, for whom Bowyer was in caretaker charge after Henning Berg had been sacked two days earlier.
Hill steered Rochdale to safety before guiding them to promotion this season with a young and vibrant team which included highly rated on-loan Rovers defender Jack O’Connell.
The 44-year-old, who is the first manager in the Spotland side’s history to achieve a second promotion, has ambitions to manage in the Championship again.
But for now he is happy where he is.
“I realise I’ve struck on to something special with this group of players and it’s a case of seeing how far we can go,” said Hill, who first guided Rochdale into League One in 2010, an achievement for which he was awarded the LMA League Two manager of the year.
“I know we’ll have to add one or two and it’d be great if I could retain someone like Jack O’Connell in League One.
“But I’m a happy person again. I think Sir Alex Ferguson has talked about this, that you have to have a measure of control and power as a manager in a football club as, if you don’t, you end up being a fall guy.
“I don’t want to be anybody’s fall guy and I believe I’ve got something uniquely special at Rochdale, where I retain enough control and power to make an impact and I do believe we will be successful.”
It was only after Hill had left Rovers, for whom he made 113 appearances and scored five goals after rising through the club’s ranks, for Plymouth Argyle in 1992 that he began to think about moving into coaching.
But although he did not realise it at the time, the coaches and managers whom he played under at Ewood Park went a long way to making him the boss he is today.
“I had a great education at Rovers,” said Bolton-born Hill, a former centre back.
“To work under people like Jim Furnell, Tony Parkes and Bob Saxton was fantastic.
“Then I had Derek Fazackerley and Glenn Keeley trying to educate me as a centre half and then obviously there was Don Mackay and Kenny Dalglish.
“I was very, very fortunate to be at a club with such a calibre of coaches, managers and players.
“It was a great education and I draw references to all those people I have just mentioned on a regular basis when we’re training, particularly Jim Furnell.
“The way I was brought up at Blackburn by Jim was pretty special.
“He was a unique man and him and Tony Parkes, I owe a debt of gratitude to because even though I was not a coach at the time, a lot of my coaching principles that I have put into place have come from them.”