It was a challenge which Danny Wilson, David Weir and Nigel Clough all failed to meet and now the Bramall Lane hierarchy have turned to Adkins.
“Who needs Mourinho we’ve got our physio” was the chant from Scunthorpe United fans when the club’s physiotherapist replaced Brian Laws in 2006.
Many outside Scunthorpe saw it as a bit of a gimmick, but that quickly changed as Adkins – a former player who started out at Liverpool – took unfashionable Iron to the League One title in his first season in the position.
It was the launchpad for a managerial career which took Adkins to the Premier League with Southampton and Reading, and he is keen to return to the top flight.
So is the job of getting Sheffield United out of League One at the fifth attempt the biggest challenge yet for the 50-year-old boss?
“Biggest challenge? It’s the next job,” said Adkins, who started his managerial career at Bangor City in the mid-Nineties.
“You can talk about so many different scenarios. Bangor City winning two League of Wales for the first time in their history, playing in the European Cup.
“At Scunthorpe United, to win League One and be in the Championship for the first time in many, many years.
“Narrowly, on 48 points, get relegated, then to bounce back the next year, that was a great season when you look at it.
“Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and promotion, then stay in the Championship as well. They were good days at Scunthorpe.
“Look at the size of Southampton. We joined them and they were 23rd in League One. We went up 51 places before I eventually left, leaving them 15th in the Premier League.
“That was a fantastic journey, at a massive football club, and it’s great to see them in Europe now.
“Taking over Reading in the Premier League, we were bottom at the time, and staring at relegation, which happened.
“There were many valuable lessons in my two years there, with the change of ownership on a couple of occasions, but there have been valuable lessons at all the clubs.”
Adkins will have to call on all those experiences at Bramall Lane, as he looks to get a club promoted out of League One at the fifth time of asking.
Along with Simon Grayson, who took Blackpool, Preston North End, Huddersfield Town and Leeds United out of English football’s third tier, Adkins is probably the best man to whom United could have turned.
At Southampton, Adkins took the Saints from League One to the Premier League.
It is a route all Blades supporters hope he can travel again. But which is tougher? Getting promoted from League One or the Championship?
“Fortunately, I have experienced both,” said Adkins. “Any team getting promoted is a challenge for anybody because the demands are there.
“But it’s one step at a time, start moving forward, and our aim is to get promoted.”
With managers lasting a staggering seven months on average in the Championship, Adkins believes the unbelievable pressure to reach the top flight tips the scales towards the latter.
“If you look at the Championship, the desire to get to the Premier League, the average tenure for a manager was only seven months,” he added.
“So the pressure to get from the Championship to the Premier League, on that stat alone, suggests the pressure is on more to make that jump than League One. But, trust me, to get out of any division is always a massive challenge. There are only a couple who can actually go on and do it.”