Paul Tisdale

Where did it all go wrong for Paul Tisdale at MK Dons?

There was a time when Paul Tisdale was rated as one of the brightest young managers in the country. And for many, he still is. Despite having spent 18 years in management, the former Exeter City boss is still only 46 years old and has an impressive track record. But his recent sacking by MK Dons has put a black mark on an otherwise exemplary CV. So what went wrong for Tisdale?

Success in the
South West

Still in his 20s, Tisdale began his coaching career at Team Bath in 2001
where he led the university-based team to four promotions through the
non-league system. His performances caught the attention of Conference side
Exeter City and he was subsequently offered the top job following the departure
of Alex Inglethorpe who is now the Academy Director at Liverpool.

Tisdale led them to the play-off final in his first season in charge where
they were beaten 2-1 by Morecambe. The following season, they went one better
and were promoted to the Football League after beating Cambridge 1-0 in the
2008 play-off final. A year later, he became the first Exeter City manager to
achieve back-to-back promotions with a second-place finish in League Two. In
the 2010/11 season, the club achieved an eighth-place finish in League One,
matching the club’s highest-ever finish. However, the fan-owned
operated on a tiny budget and were eventually relegated at the end of
the following season.

Over the next six seasons, they reached the play-off finals twice, missing
out on promotion on both occasions. In total, Tisdale took the Devon side to
Wembley on four occasions. When he left in 2018, he was the longest-serving
manager at any club in the top four divisions. Exeter have continued to perform
well since he left and are amongst the favourites at Space Casino to be promoted this

Where it went wrong
at the MK Dons

After his 12-year stint at Exeter City, Tisdale finally left the club,
taking up an offer to join the MK Dons. This move was seen as the next step in
a career that seemed destined for an upward trajectory. The Dons had just been
relegated and Tisdale was tasked with taking them back to League One within two
years, a feat he achieved at the first time of asking following a third-place
finish. The following season, the club endured one of the worst runs in its
short history. So what prompted this dramatic drop-off in form?

Tisdale pointed to the fact that many key players were out injured during
this spell including ex-Wolves man Joe Mason, Northern Ireland international
Ben Reeves and former Premier League striker Rhys Healey. This highlighted a
lack of strength in depth and the need to build a team capable of progressing
to the next level. Tisdale that claimed with all his players fit, they were a
top-half side.

But unlike at Exeter City where mitigating circumstances were taken into account and he was given the time to make the necessary adjustments, MK Dons chairman Pete Winkelman was in no mood for accommodating such a poor run and gave the boss his marching orders. It seemed that Tisdale’s own lack of urgency about the situation did not sit well with his new employers and he will no doubt have learned a valuable lesson about the fickle nature of life outside of the Exeter City bubble.

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