AS a player at Fulham, Sean O’Driscoll was given the nickname Noisy. As manager of Bournemouth, it was Mr Happy. As you’ve probably guessed, both were meant in jest.
Despite learning his trade under Harry Redknapp, the 56-year-old couldn’t be further from the eternally chirpy, media-friendly QPR boss.
Reporters are frequently told not to ask stupid questions. Offenders are invariably met with sarcasm or outright hostility.
Nor will O’Driscoll ever be found ranting at fourth officials, throwing teacups or pumping up a crowd.
“Sean is a quiet man,” says striker Steve Fletcher, who spent six years under O’Driscoll at Bournemouth and went on to break his record as the club’s leading appearance maker.
“He isn’t the type of manager who is on TV and in the public eye. He’s not a shouter. But he gets his point across. A look from Sean is enough to let you know if you aren’t doing it right. He doesn’t have to throw things around.”
As O’Driscoll once admitted, he finds the desire of crowds to see passion in the dugout “tiresome”. “You would hope that as many people who want to see a manager jumping up and down would also appreciate that public histrionics don’t make you do your job any better,” he said. “When I’m on the touchline is probably when I’m at my calmest. I rarely feel emotion as I’m just completely engaged in what is happening on the pitch.”
Indeed, the Bristol City manager’s reticence is no accident. As a player, first for Fulham and then Bournemouth, O’Driscoll admits he drove his managers mad by constantly questioning their decisions.
Now his whole coaching philosophy is based around forcing players to think for themselves, to encourage rather than instruct.
“The coaching culture in this country from the youngest age is ‘tell, tell, tell, tell, do this, do that, do this’. But the players have to have input too.
“Once they’ve crossed the white line they have to make the decisions and I’m not going to criticise them for making the wrong decision as long as they knew what they were trying to do. It’s about understanding and responsibility.
“That’s why we never do passing drills in training. We try to give people options on the ball and the thing I’m trying to coach is for the player to pick the right option.”
The results are rarely quick. In his first job, at Bournemouth, O’Driscoll suffered relegation to the basement division before winning his way back up in 2003.
But in his six years at Dean Court, the Cherries gained a reputation for being one of the most attractive sides around.
Fletcher remembers: “If there was a period in my 20 years at Bourne-mouth where I could say: ‘That’s the time where I became a true professional and looked at things differently’, it would be under Sean O’Driscoll.
“Every player I speak to praises his methods, his work ethic and his ethos. He was a massive, massive influence who gave me the inspiration to go on and play and have responsibility.” It was a similar story at Doncaster Rovers who, after a season of struggle, passed their way to the JPT in 2007 and promotion from League One in 2008.
Later, at Nottingham Forest, he would again get the side passing before being bizarrely sacked following a 4-2 win over Leeds on Boxing Day 2012. They were a point off the play-offs at the time.
Things have been tougher at Bristol City, with relegation from the Championship followed by a slump to the foot of League One. The pressure is on, but for former player and current Cherries boss Eddie Howe, the Robins have got one of the best in the business.
“His teams always try to play the right way and he always tries to educate his players to get them to play that style. I have the utmost respect for not just how he coaches and manages, but his ethics of the game.”
SEAN O’DRISCOLL FACT FILE
Born: Wolverhampton, 1957 (Age 56)
Playing career: Spotted playing non-league football with Alvechurch, O’Driscoll was signed by Second Division Fulham in 1979 and spent the next five years at Craven Cottage. A versatile midfielder, he was part of the side relegated to Division Three in 1980 but remained to win promotion two years later.
In 1984, O’Driscoll joined Bournemouth, going on to play a club-record 423 league games for the Cherries before eventually retiring, aged 38, in 1995. During his time at Dean Court, O’Driscoll won the Third Division title in 1987, and the following season helped Harry Redknapp’s men defeat Manchester United 2-0 in the FA Cup. O’Driscoll also won three caps for the Republic of Ireland, all during his time at Fulham.
Managerial career: Joined the Bournemouth coaching staff upon retirement and became manager in 2000, winning promotion via the Third Division play-offs in the 2002-03 season. After six years as manager (and 22 in total) at Dean Court, O’Driscoll moved to Doncaster. There, he won the Football League Trophy in his first season and promotion to the Championship in his second, leading Donny to a 1-0 victory over Leeds in the play-off final at Wembley.
Having thrice kept Doncaster up, O’Driscoll was sacked in September 2011 and joined Nottingham Forest as assistant to Steve Cotterill.
In summer 2012, O’Driscoll was briefly named Crawley manager but left before a ball had been kicked after Forest made an approach for his services. In charge at the City Ground, he led the club to seventh before being sacked. Appointed by Bristol City in January 2013, he couldn’t prevent relegation from the Championship.