Rotherham United will pause their search for a new manager to offer their survival heroes the chance to stay at the club.
The process of identifying Neil Warnock’s successor has already begun after the 67-year-old parted company with the Millers on Wednesday.
But the club are also finalising their retained list, and chairman Tony Stewart believes the players who kept them in the Championship against all odds this season have earned the right to new deals.
“The players have proved under Neil that they’re competent enough to compete at this level,” Stewart said. “Of all the top teams in the division, Burnley are the only one we haven’t taken points from this season. That tells you something.
“Our players showed how good they can be with the right man leading them. The ones who performed under Neil will be retained. Then it’s a case of tweaking the squad, with probably four or five new players coming in.”
That means out-of-contract players like Kirk Broadfoot, Matt Derbyshire, Richard Wood, Stephen Kelly and Leon Best can expect offers from the Millers.
The hunt for a new boss is likely to gather pace next week after Stewart and his board have assessed the applications which are already flooding in.
Former Sheffield Wednesday head coach Stuart Gray and ex-Blackburn Rovers boss Gary Bowyer have emerged as potential front-runners.
Gray, now a coach at Fulham, was in the frame when Warnock accepted a short-term Rotherham deal in February, although the Cottagers weren’t prepared to release him, while Bowyer, a former Millers players who hasn’t worked since being sacked by Rovers in November, was also under consideration.
Both fit Stewart’s criteria of having experience in the second tier.
Warnock engineered an 11-match unbeaten run which saw Rotherham, once six points adrift of a safety place, finish nine points clear of the drop zone.
Stewart is disappointed to see him leave but says the pair have departed on good terms and that he is already looking to the future.
“The club is bigger than any single individual, although getting the right people in place obviously plays a huge part in being successful,” he said.
“We’ve been doing this for eight years now and we’re still learning. What we have to do now is move forward and secure the club’s standing in the Championship or even above that.
“We’re very grateful that Neil did the job he was paid to do. He was a quick fix. Now we’re looking for the long-term fix.
“He is a friend for life. I don’t fall out with people. We’ve played golf and been out for meals and I’ve enjoyed our time together. I’d like to wish his wife, Sharon, all the best.
Rotherham followers took Warnock and Sharon to their hearts, buying Mrs Warnock flowers and raising money for her to donate to charity to show their support during her cancer treatment.
Meanwhile, Warnock, who is being heavily linked with the vacant Blackburn job, revealed that witnessing the drama of the play-offs had whetted his appetitie for the record-breaking eight career promotion he felt would be almost impossible to achieve with the Millers in the one last year he plans in management.
“I would do League One if I thought the promotion chance was there, but I’d prefer the Championship,” he said. “Watching the play-offs has made me realise how much I want to be involved in something like that again. I thought: ‘I’ll have some of that.’ I just want that challenge.
“Rotherham’s results will always be among the first I look for. They can stay up next season. They need to consolidate in the Championship for two or three years and then maybe look beyond that. Any team in the Championship can make it to the Premier League. Maybe Rotherham can have a go in four or five years. I wish the club every success.”
The veteran boss says he thought he would be remaining in the New York hot-seat right up until negotiations over a new contract stalled this week and admits he is leaving with a heavy heart.
“There is a genuine bond between me and Tony. I will always be available to help him if ever he needs me,” he said.
“It was coming to the QPR game in January as a guest that made me realise what a special lot the Rotherham people are. They gave me such a warm welcome. I made my mind up that day that if ever the chance came up to manage Rotherham I would take it.
“Coming back to New York with another club next season would be a very emotional occasion for me. I love everything about Rotherham United - the chairman, the people, the fans.”