2011-12 season review ~ It is a dilemma that has faced many clubs. When a highly successful manager leaves, do you replace him with someone with a solid track record who has seen it all before (think Martin O'Neill or Sam Allardyce) or do you take a gamble on an inexperienced but ambitious younger man, who hopefully turns out to be the next Paul Lambert or Brendan Rodgers? In a novel approach, Rochdale tried both last season. Initially Steve Eyre was brought in following Keith Hill's departure to Barnsley. It was hoped the highly regarded 40-year-old, who spent many years coaching Manchester City's youth teams, would have enough contacts to bring in exciting young players capable of continuing the club's progress.
After Christmas, when that hadn't worked, it was the turn of John Coleman, one of the longest serving managers in the country, following 13 years in charge of Accrington Stanley.
The results of this experiment proved inconclusive. Both managers won just four league games, each averaging less than a point per game. Despite a few memorable moments – including derby wins over Bury, Oldham and Preston, and a Carling Cup win at QPR – Rochdale finished bottom of League One, several points adrift of the rest.
To be fair to both men, only the most optimistic fans anticipated a repeat of the remarkable ninth-place finish in 2010-11. Hill's departure was no surprise, as he had been linked with almost every managerial vacancy outside of the Premier League for the previous six months.
Nor was Craig Dawson's departure to West Brom unexpected. They had been generous in loaning back our best player for a year after buying him the previous summer, although there was no sign of a central-defensive replacement.
Perhaps most significantly, Chris O'Grady was sold to Sheffield Wednesday at the start of the season. Although never a prolific goalscorer, O'Grady's style of centre-forward play and his ability to keep hold of the ball had been a key part of the team's recent success.
So now it's back "home" to League Two. Chris Dunphy, the chairman, has reacted philosophically: "We are going to lose a lot of money dropping from one division to another, but it's at a time when we can withstand it."
Despite the inevitable financial constraints, Coleman is promising "sweeping changes" with a "radical squad overhaul", although so far that has involved releasing three squad members, signing a striker from Macclesfield and being linked with several of his former Accrington players. While criticising a lack of belief among the current squad, he has talked of building a side "to play as a mirror image of myself and my ethos on football".
Most fans seem prepared to give Coleman a chance to prove himself with his own team next season. His track record of year-on-year improvement at Accrington is impressive. The last time Rochdale suffered relegation to the bottom tier of League football, it took a mere 36 years to get out again. Hopefully he is the man to deliver a speedier return. David Emanuel