Following the completion of the 2014-15 season, statistics revealed that the average tenure for a manager at one of the 92 English Football League clubs is just 1.23 years.
One manager bucking that trend though is Exeter City boss Paul Tisdale, who is the second longest-serving manager in the league behind Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger.
The 42-year-old has just begun his 10th season in charge at the League Two outfit, but what does he put his longevity in charge of the Devon outfit down to?
Shoot exclusively caught up with the former Southampton, Bristol City and Yeovil Town midfielder.
You’ve just entered your tenth year in charge at Exeter. Did you ever think you would be here that long?
“Well if I thought I’d be here for approaching ten years I probably would have moved house from Wiltshire! When you looked at the percentages which said that most managers would stay in a job barely over a year, and that 50% of managers don’t get a second job, it seemed pointless moving down to Devon. Anyway, here I am into my tenth year and I do a lot of miles. I never know how to judge it apart from that it works very well and I’m at a very good club. I think it’s important to find a good fit for both the club and the manager and Exeter’s worked for me and I think I’ve worked for Exeter, so it wasn’t the worst decision I’ve made.”
What would you say is the main reason you’ve been here for that period of time?
“It’s a good fit, I enjoy it and I have a good work-life balance. I understand what the club wants. There’s lots of frustrations as there are in any business, but generally there’s a lot of upsides and it’s a place where I’ve got a certain amount of autonomy within my weekly work outside of coaching and picking the team. I work with some terrific people. There’s a lot of continuity here with the likes of Steve Perryman and the coaching staff, and there’s a big bond between the people that work at this club.”
What do you remember about your first game in charge?
“It was York City away. I can remember the game, I can remember the team I picked, I can remember it was a 0-0 draw. I can also remember some things about the game I won’t repeat! It was a really interesting start here at Exeter where I’d come in and I didn’t know the league or the players. I signed a couple of players but essentially I acquired someone else’s team and I enjoyed making them very competitive. I never wanted to risk a losing streak so I made it my priority when I joined the club that I would try to avoid losing two games in succession. We kept to that rule for quite a long time before we lost the two in a row at Notts County away a few years later. I don’t believe this whole ‘don’t judge me until I have my own team’ stance. Once you arrive as manager and you pick your first team they are your players.”
How much would you say you have progressed as a manager during your time with Exeter?
“You continually develop, progress and look to improve the way you work. It’s about being effective, but at a club like Exeter the horizons change continuously because the finances dictate the players that you can bring in. The playing squad has to fit the business plan and with a cash-flow business like ours, that is continually changing. It’s not about a steady line of progress it’s about adapting and working around the business of the club and over a period of time you hone your skills in terms of managing people and teams. You make lots of mistakes but you learn from doing badly as much as you learn from doing well.”
Were there any managers you worked under as a player that inspired you?
“I enjoyed working under Alan Ball during my time with Southampton. I made my first few appearances there under Alan and I liked the way his teams played football. He has had a significant input into my coaching philosophy.”
When you look at the average length of a manager’s tenure at the 92 Football League clubs, what do you think your secret has been here?
“When people ask me that question it’s meant as a compliment but let’s not forget that I’ve decided to stay also, so it’s not just managers getting sacked, it’s managers deciding to leave and go somewhere else. I wouldn’t have been here nine odd years if I wanted to leave because I would have taken some opportunities when they arose. So the secret is working with the club and empathising with the people and personalities at the club.”
You’ve had offers from other clubs in the past. Why did you decide to stay with Exeter?
“One – I enjoy it here. Two – I’m ambitious, so people often ask why I haven’t moved to a club in a higher league but I see trying to get Exeter into the Championship at some point as ambitious. Some people would say that is ambitious and some would say it is virtually impossible but it depends on how you define ambition. At Exeter we also recruit players in a certain way and sometimes the player needs us as much as we need the player. The problem with that is that the player often buys into the support I’m going to give them to help them further their career so of course you form some kind of emotional attachment with the players. That then does make it difficult to leave mid-season and it’s not the easiest place to leave once you’ve made a commitment to people.”
You’ve been linked with the Swansea and Southampton jobs before. Do you ever look back with any regret when you see them thriving in the Premier League?
“I don’t regret it because I enjoy my job, my life and work balance, I enjoy the people I work with. Ironically there have been a number of managers, if you go back five years, who questioned why I stayed. Then, two or three years after that, they were saying what a good decision that was because they’d moved and not had the greatest of experiences. Sometimes the grass isn’t always greener and a bigger club isn’t always a better one. I’m so busy preparing and building another team, which is great fun, that I don’t really think about it. I enjoy what I do and I love it here.”
You’re in your 10th year here. How much longer would you like to be here?
“I had no plan when I came here. This club is about understanding the business to ensure you stay healthy, developing all of the players and the support staff around you and lastly winning the next match. I’m forever looking long term which ties you in and I’m forever concentrating on Saturday’s game because you have to make sure you win in this game more than you lose.”
If you could pick out one favourite moment over your time here so far, what would it be?
“It’s hard not to look past two promotions. But then going into League One and staying up the following season on the last day felt equally satisfying. In terms of the emotion of a day, winning at Wembley has to be pretty special, but if you look at it over a period of time, getting to eighth in League One after five years would be the highlight. Of course it was only going to come backwards because you can’t sustain that, but we might get back there one day.”
Exeter just missed out on the play-offs last season. What are your aims for this year?
“To improve on last year. We have the ability to improve with the size of the squad we have which is very important at League Two level. We want to have a rhythm about the way we train and work and we’ve started in a far healthier position than last year because of the financial troubles of last summer. We finished 10th and fell away at the end of the year and I’d like to finish in a better position than last year.”
Tom Nichols scored 15 goals last season and has three so far this term. How good can he be?
“If he has the right purpose about him in the way he plays, and he takes advice from the likes of Steve Perryman and Garry Haylock and wants to learn, then he’s got every chance of improving his game with good players around him. There’s some creative players such as Lee Holmes, Ryan Harley and Matt Oakley around him and they can only enhance his game. There’s no doubt he’ll work very hard and he has an open mind, and I think he’ll improve on his tally of last year and improve his all-round game also.”
You’re known as a manager who plays neat, tidy football. Is that something you pride yourself on?
“I don’t direct the team to play a certain way, I just don’t tell them not to play good football. It sounds ridiculous to say but it’s about giving them a bit of freedom. You sign players who want to play football but they do need structure and direction sometimes because believe it or not, the simplest of games can be very messy if the team doesn’t have structure. And, the better the players, the better the team, the better the form, the better the football will be. We’ve produced one or teams who have played good football and I’m hoping to get back to that soon.”
You were on the bench against Portsmouth last year? Would you have enjoyed coming on deep down?
“At the time I knew we had very little support on the bench and I was sub because we were hard up. I didn’t really fancy coming on if I’m being honest. It was 1-1 and yeah, maybe one day I’ll get another five minutes like I did at Hillsborough four years ago. It was a necessity that day and thankfully we’re not in that position again.”
What is your favourite film? Lawrence of Arabia
Favourite clothing brand? Ted Baker
Hobby outside of football? Cricket
Dream dinner guest? Ian Botham