A LITTLE over a fortnight ago Gary Bowyer joined a host of sporting names in Manchester to collect his degree.
Two years of hard work had gone into an award that came with a distinction, hence the 47-year-old’s pride as he joined fellow students Vikram Solanki, the former England Test cricketer, and Premiership Rugby director Phil Winstanley for a ceremony attended by family and friends.
Bowyer will have a similar feeling today as he walks along the Valley Parade touchline for the first time as Bradford City’s new manager.
With all due respect to academia, however, the stakes will be a lot higher as the former full-back looks to prove once again he is the safe pair of hands so badly needed by clubs deep in the mire.
Bradford are staring at relegation to the basement division and Bowyer will need all the skills honed not only in spells in charge of Blackpool and Blackburn Rovers but those long hours spent studying for his recently awarded Master of Sport Directorship degree. Nevertheless he is delighted to be back at the coalface of football management.
“There have been other offers to return,” said Bowyer, who left his post at Bloomfield Road just one game into this season, to The Yorkshire Post.
“There was one pre-Christmas and then, just after, one or two more enquiries. But I was just finishing my degree on a two-year part-time course at Manchester Met (University).
“I only got my degree last month. With a distinction, which was unbelievable.”
If Bowyer can keep Bradford up he will deserve a lot more than graduating with honours.
The Bantams are six points adrift of safety with just 11 games to play. Next up are two of League One’s in-form teams, Peterborough United’s visit today being followed by another home game against leaders Luton Town on Tuesday.
For a club on their third manager of the campaign and with just one win from the last nine matches, the picture looks bleak.
Bowyer, however, knows a thing or two about working amid pressure from those two-and-a-half years at Ewood Park under the much-maligned Venky’s regime and another 18 months at Blackpool with the Oyston family.
City fans must hope those experiences, plus the lessons learned recently in the classroom, will stand him in good stead for the challenge of keeping the club up come May.
“The two jobs I had were fantastic grounding and learning curves for me,” said the new Bradford chief, who spent Christmas in Australia and was part of the 73,516 crowd at the Boxing Day Test against India in Melbourne.
“When I took over as caretaker (manager) for a second time at Blackburn we found ourselves in the bottom three.
“So, I have got experience of being in and around those areas and how we got out of it.
“You would like to think what you learned then, you can decide what worked and what we need to be better at. Hopefully we can reap the benefits here.”
As, Bowyer believes, will be the case with his recently awarded degree.
“It provided me with the bigger picture,” he said.
“The course was brilliant. There were fabulous people on the course from rugby league, rugby union, women’s football.
“Mike Rush, the CEO from St Helens, was brilliant. There was the head of performance at Warrington Wolves at the time, Ben Stirling, and Phil Winstanley from England rugby union.
“Vikram Solanki at Surrey, he always used to get my questions on cricket – which I am sure he was not best pleased about.
“There was also Karen Bardsley, the England goalkeeper. There were 18 to 20 of us and we were a fantastic mix.
“We also visited clubs and organisations to study how things are done. I went into Warrington Wolves, for instance, and met Tony Smith. We developed a friendship.
“He texted Monday night and wished me all the very best. I have invited him down to have a look around and speak to the players. He is a wonderful coach, who won a hell of a lot at Leeds.”
One aspect of the course proved extremely relevant last weekend. Bowyer added: “I had to do a dissertation that was 15,000 words. It was on sporting directors’ experiences in recruiting first-team managers.
“I was fortunate because I was able to go round and interview sporting directors who had been through the process and understand it a little bit more. It proved topical, to say the least.”