Relegation-threatened Hull City yesterday relieved Phil Brown of his managerial duties and put him on gardening leave. When the television companies assembled the montages of his three-and-a-quarter years at the helm of the club, some shots were shoo-ins: Dean Windass volleying Hull into the Premier League for the first time in their 104-year history, for instance, and Daniel Cousin heading the winner at the Emirates Stadium.
So were others that acquired an infamy: Brown delivering a half-time team talk on the pitch at Manchester City in December 2008, celebrating survival five months later with an impromptu karaoke in the centre circle of the KC Stadium and, last Friday, delivering a public apology to the Hull branch of the Women's Institute. Away from the Humber, they were the abiding images. The popular perception of Brown was that he was something of an idiot, addicted to publicity and incapable of doing the obvious when the unorthodox provided an alternative.
A record of one win in his final 16 matches and just seven from his final 58 Premier League games suggests his dismissal was overdue. Three points from safety with nine games to go, there was a logic to chairman Adam Pearson's decision. Hull's position is not irretrievable yet, but it might be soon. Schadenfreude should abound. Brown antagonised some and irritated many. A colourful character who was disparagingly nicknamed Phil Orange because of his permanent tan, Brown's demise was widely predicted four months ago. Now, despite the euphemism gardening leave provides, it has occurred.
Yet his unwanted reputation should be ignored. Results in the last 15 months have been unsatisfactory, but the last 19 games scarcely constitute a cast-iron case for dismissal. On Saturday, Hull's final performance under Brown was excellent. They competed terrifically well with 10 men, deserving the point they were denied by Arsenal's Nicklas Bendtner in injury time. It was a reminder of Brown's attributes. His side played with unquestioned commitment against the Gunners.
A manager with unquenchable belief in himself had defied credibility, both with some of his actions and with where he took Hull. The league table from October 2008, showing the Tigers level on points at the top of the Premier League, was testament to his talent for the unpredictable. He is an astute tactician whose left-field ideas could go hopelessly wrong, but could enable Hull to compete with more gifted teams. He approached the Premier League with a refreshing boldness; unlike Sam Allardyce, whose assistant he used to be, Brown's focus went beyond defending and set-pieces.
Perhaps it was a consequence of spending so much time in Allardyce's considerable shadow that the personable Brown enjoyed both the job of management and the spotlight that resulted. That is no crime. However, he can be faulted for his dealings. Jimmy Bullard, the record signing, is rarely fit and rejection became a constant for Hull in the transfer market. Despite that, they overspent on wages under former chairman Paul Duffen. It makes their run-in especially important. Relegation has consequences for every club; for Hull, they could include administration. But while many rejoice at his departure, demotion might be a likelier outcome without Brown.