Having been left in tears after his first match in charge at Burton, Paul Warne couldn’t see himself lasting another minute in management.
So another 99 games will have been beyond his wildest imagination, but a lot has changed since then.
The man who once called himself a ‘managerial fraud’, is now Rotherham United’s 15th managerial centurion.
“I cried in my press, I was a broken man.”
Loved in his playing days, Warne had gone on to be the clubs’ fitness coach. He was funny, friendly and revered by everyone. He had the managers back, but he was with the players.
All of a sudden he found himself catapulted into the hot seat of a club who were effectively relegated in December.
Alan Stubbs couldn’t do the job and Kenny Jackett walked out 39 days into his doomed reign.
The Millers were reeling, but Warne was there to carry the burden of the club he loved when no one else would.
He was now steering the Titanic, but it had already hit the iceberg.
In the build-up to his first game at Burton Albion, Warne had remained true to himself.
To coin one of his favourite phrases, he’d been a ‘good human being’ and he believed that the football gods would smile down on him.
But as we all know, football is a cruel game.
Rotherham were beaten 2-1 and Warne’s world had come tumbling down.
— Rob Staton (@robstaton) December 3, 2016
He was emotionally, mentally and physically drained. He’d reluctantly managed one game and had no intention of sticking around for more.
“After that first game I was emotionally gone. I think I cried in my press, I was a broken man.”
“I honestly thought that was the only game I was going to manage in. So I thought if it was going to be on my record or whatever and it read ‘football manager one game one win’ that would have been ledge”.
“I was hugely disappointed when I lost and I gave literally every thought and waking minute to the team winning.”
“I thought because I was being a good human being the football gods would have looked kindly on me, so when I lost that game I was devastated.”
“If you asked me then would I do another 99 of them, no way in hell because I wouldn’t have thought I’d be alive.”
“I had people begging me not to take the job”
Help was not coming. Warne would have the job for the rest of the 2016-17 season and there were dark days.
His side were beaten heavily at Cardiff and QPR, suffered late heartbreak against Huddersfield Town and went on a ten game losing streak.
One player even told him he was the worst coach he’d ever worked for.
The record books weren’t kind either.
The Millers finished the campaign with 23 points, the lowest ever points tally in the second tier in a 46-game season.
Perhaps fittingly, they were relegated on April Fool’s day but were spared the further ignominy of having their fate sealed by rivals Sheffield Wednesday.
You’d think the side needed a change, a man with fresh ideas and a new way of thinking.
Chairman Tony Stewart thought differently. He’d seen something in Warne that told him he could be a successful manager.
But Warne didn’t feel he was good enough and couldn’t bear the thought of letting the club down, he said:
“I openly admitted I refused the job a few times when it was being talked about.
“When the chairman asked me to do It I gave it some thought.
“I can remember running round the training ground thinking about it, I just didn’t know if I could put my family through it.
“I was in tears speaking to my brother on the phone and he was saying: ‘if you don’t want to do it don’t do it, it’s not worth your health’.
“At the time we were losing every week, even if we were doing well something bad would happen.
“I went and saw the chairman and I was completely honest and told him I don’t think you should promote me as manager. I don’t think I’m good enough and I don’t want to let the club down.”
His self doubt was coupled with criticism from a section of fans who didn’t believe he could turn the club’s fortunes around.
However, Warne couldn’t bare the thought of looking in the mirror to see a coward staring back.
“At the time I had a couple of people begging me not to take the job because I’d ruin it.
“The chairman was brilliant. People don’t see that side. I’m not here to bang ‘the chairman’s great drum’, but he was very good.
“He told me once I get my own players and my own staff in I’d be fine.
“He convinced me more as well about the whole regret thing, I hate that word it kills me.
“But the chairman said if someone came in after me and did a really good job in 20 years time would I look back and think I could have done a better job?
“In the end I got it off my chest with the chairman and he was brilliant with me and I thought if I’m not a success at least I can’t look myself in the mirror and think I was a coward.
“So in the end I did out of not wanting regrets, not wanting to feel a coward and I thought right let’s have a go at it and I’m glad I did.”
“I don’t beat myself up as much now.”
A Wembley triumph later and the Millers are back in the second tier, more than holding their own.
Warne has surrounded himself with players and staff who share his values. He’s top of the heap in this corner of New York and he’s doing it his way.
“I didn’t think it was my vocation in life and then I surrounded myself with brilliant staff and brilliant players.
“They were perfect for the club in my opinion, there are obviously better players out there if there weren’t we’d be top of the Premier League. But these are the best players we can get who want to be here and want to work.”
The self-proclaimed ‘accidental manager’ has learnt to carry the burden more, to not take criticism to heart and not beat himself up when it doesn’t go his way.
“Initially I was fitness coach, manager, water-boy, everything and that was way too much.
“I don’t beat myself up as much now. When I used to be on Twitter I’d read everything and hear everything. I couldn’t understand how people could criticise my decisions when I was giving everything I could.
“Now I’m a lot older and more mature so I feel if people want to abuse me for my selection and my tactics that’s absolutely fine. That’s just the society we live in.
“I don’t beat myself up when we lose now. I know me and the staff work as hard as we can and the lads give everything they can to win a game. If we don’t win it I won’t beat myself up because I know I can’t work any harder.
“I drive home after a defeat now although hugely disappointed I’m not as self-critical. I try to enjoy my time with my family which is essential.”
The highlight of Warne’s time in charge needs no introduction to Miller’s fans.
After going through so much and stepping in when the club was on its knees, he got the success he deserved.
Richard Wood’s brace saw Rotherham deservedly beat Shrewsbury Town 2-1 to win promotion back to the Championship.
Warne’s crowning moment in the dugout, sealed by the man wearing a magic hat.
The tears of despair in game one had turned into tears of joy in the Wembley sun.
“They can never take that away from me. It was great that my kids were there and my dad was still alive to see it.”
— Sky Bet (@SkyBet) May 28, 2018
Warne’s 100th game in charge saw his side battle and scrap their way to a 0-0 draw away at table-topping Middlesbrough on Tuesday.
His side was full of heart, desire and ‘good human beings’.
A stark contrast to the team that took to field at the Pirelli Stadium 99 games ago.