You departed Dundee in the summer of 2023 having won the Scottish Championship title and Scottish Championship manager of the year in your sole season in charge of the club. How do you reflect on your time in charge and the success you achieved individually and as a group?
“It was a decision that the club made which disappointed me as I was excited at the prospect of leading the team in the Scottish Premiership.
“Overall, I have a feeling of great pride because we achieved what we came to do and that was winning promotion back to the top flight at the first attempt.
“Added to that, we achieved this by being the top scorers in the league, with four players reaching double figures for the first time in their careers while conceding the lowest number of goals in a really competitive league.
“We had a good mix of experience and youth in the squad, and the players deserve all the plaudits, as there was an enormous amount of expectation on them, which they handled very well.
“I enjoyed watching the younger players grow and develop and take their opportunities, including the likes of Lyall Cameron, who became our top goal scorer. Lyall was also selected in the team of the year along with Lee Ashcroft and Ryan Sweeney.
“Personally, being named Manager of the Year and winning the league was an incredible end to a fantastic experience and I thank the staff who played a huge part in that success.”
What did you make of Scottish football as a whole during your first experience of it?
“I absolutely loved my time in Scotland, the people were so friendly wherever I went and I was settled where I lived too.
“I enjoyed going to new grounds and coming across new managers and coaches. The Scottish Championship was a really tough league with good teams who were well-coached.
“I loved the passion from the supporters and I had a fantastic relationship with the Dundee fans. The experience took me out of my comfort zone and as a result, I have become a better person and manager with the lessons learnt.
“I would strongly recommend it to any manager or coach, and I would not hesitate in returning to Scotland.”
You worked in the academy setup at Blackburn Rovers before starting your managerial career at the club by becoming a first-team manager. How do you reflect on your time at the club as a whole and what is the difference between working with young players and senior professionals?
“I spent eleven and a half years at Blackburn, so the club is very close to my heart. Working under Graeme Souness, Mark Hughes, Paul Ince, and Sam Allardyce, to name but a few, was an amazing education.
“The club gave me my opportunity in management and I will be forever grateful for the trust that they placed in me.
“During my two and a half years in charge of the first team, we missed out on the play-offs in my first year by two points.
“In the second season, we finished ninth and had a great FA Cup run, beating the then Premier League sides Swansea City and Stoke City, before losing to Liverpool in a replay in the quarter-final.
“In addition to that we developed players such as Grant Hanley and David Raya, and provided a return on the club’s investment with the sales of Rudy Gestede, Shane Duffy and Tom Cairney.
“The main difference between working with younger players and senior players, in my opinion, is time. In youth development there is more time allowed for results and developing players; however, in senior football, you buy time by winning football matches.”
You became manager of Blackpool after the club had been relegated to League Two in 2016 and immediately achieved promotion back to League One via the playoffs. How special was it to achieve instant success at the club and at Wembley of all places too?
“To lead your team out at Wembley was something I always wanted to do ever since I became a manager.
“To win at Wembley was an unbelievable occasion and a day that we will never forget. To achieve it at the first time of asking shows what a special group of people we had, both staff and players.
“There was a special bond that year within the whole club, as it had suffered back-to-back relegations and we were able to bring everyone together.
“It was very challenging as the fans that year decided to boycott the stadium, so we played many of our home games where the opposition had more fans than us. The players deserve a huge amount of praise for the way they handled this situation.
“We recruited well and had a very good squad with the likes of Brad Potts (now at Preston North End) and Bright Osayi-Samuel (now at Fenerbache) Kyle Vassell (now at Kilmarnock) all going on to play at a higher level.
“We did well in our next season in League One, finishing twelfth, and we had a good mix of experience in Jimmy Ryan and Jay Spearing and youth in Sean Longstaff (now at Newcastle United) who had a fantastic season, scoring 9 goals from midfield.”
You have also managed Bradford City and Salford City as well as working at Derby County under Wayne Rooney. What did you learn from those experiences?
“I have had some fantastic learning experiences at these clubs, from going in at Bradford with only eleven games to go and suffering relegation and dealing with the expectation of the supporters to bounce straight back.
“At Salford it was a unique situation as I went there ‘on loan’, initially until the end of the season from Derby County under 23’s.
“I then took on the position full-time. I enjoyed my time at the club, working with some good people. I also learnt a lot from the leadership of Gary Neville, talking football regularly and learning more about the Class of 92’s mentality, and what it was like being at Manchester United.
“At Derby, you could tell that Wayne Rooney had a presence about him and it’s no surprise that he did well under very difficult circumstances.”
Finally, Gary, what are your ambitions for the future?
“Having now had chance to reflect on the amazing season that we had by winning the league, and recharging my batteries, I am now looking forward to the next challenge that comes my way, wherever in the world that may be.
“I love working and improving players and want to continue to do that, before eventually moving into a Sporting Director’s role and putting my years of experience in the game alongside my Master’s Degree qualification into action.”