For me the question has become one that could be phrased as “What makes a manager good/bad in the eyes of the fans?”
Is it pure statistics? Is it about which players he signed? What tactics he used? Those are of course important and often quantifiable evidence as to how a manager actually performed during his tenure. But are they all that matters? Are they even the most important factors in considering whether or not a manager was good or bad?
In all honesty for me those are only a part of the answer. In fact from a fan's point of view I'd have to state that I think what makes a manager good or bad is about all those things but with one very important addition that can't be quantified. How did it feel to be a fan when Gary Megson was our manager? How did it feel to be a fan when Owen Coyle was manager?
It's as much a subjective experience as being a football fan in the first place is.
So from my subjective point of view here is the answer I believe to be right.
Megson was much worse than Coyle. His all round demeanour was unpleasant, he branded the fans “pathetic” and told us “football people know how good I am” while serving up the worst, most boring football I've ever seen either at Burnden Park or The Reebok/Macron. His oft repeated mantra “We were below Derby when I came in.” Became not just irritating but to me seemed to be saying we all had to accept the garbage on the field and coming out of his mouth without comment because he'd “saved” us from relegation which to be fair he probably did. His relationship with the fans and press were awful and simply added to the feeling of deep unhappiness I got from watching a team that seemed to lack cohesion, spirit and spent all its time in its own half because he was so frightened of losing a match he rarely set out a team to go and win one. By the end of the 2008/2009 season I'd become so appalled by what I was seeing on and off the pitch I refused to set foot in the Reebok again as long as he was the manager and for the first time in over twenty years I did NOT renew my season ticket. I refused to give a penny to the club I love because I felt it was wasted as long as Megson remained in charge of the team. I went to some away games because I couldn't bear to not watch us at all but that was it.
Contrast that to how I felt when Coyle came in. I had some reservations, largely due to his lack of real top flight coaching experience but I like many others was pleased to see him both because at last Megson was gone and here was a guy who'd played for us, was popular among the fans and had just brought Burnley into the Premier League on next to nothing. Not only that Burnley played some very attractive football under Coyle and so I took my seat at the 'Bok for the game against Burnley and when I left I felt things were already looking up. And oh boy they sure were. The rest of that season was largely one of re-organisation and re-energising players who'd looked crushed and spiritless under Megson.
The following season (09/10) was one of the best I've ever had as a Trotters fan. Up till Christmas it seemed we were incapable of doing anything wrong. We got to the top eight again, we played some superb football and did it with largely the same players we'd had at the end of the Megson reign. In fact that made me even more annoyed with Megson because the man had signed some absolute gems and yet failed to get anything like the best from them. He had an eye for talent that was undeniable, possibly even better than Big Sam's but it took Coyle to let them show what they could really do with the right encouragement and system.
Of course I should have known there would be problems, that other teams would figure out that Owen played all out attack most of the time because he didn't know how to do anything else just as Megson knew nothing but uber-defensive football based on the mantra “don't lose” rather than Owen's “Go for the win at any cost” but it was just so much fun to watch that I didn't really care and probably wouldn't have if someone had told me what was going to happen.
Sluffy and others on the forum are quite correct in the assertion that Owen failed. But his failures made me feel way better than Megson's “successes” and even though we lost 5-0 in the semi-final against Stoke and began the slide that would lead us into the championship there were still great high points for a trotter to enjoy along the way.
Watching us demolish Liverpool 3-1 with my then fiancée Wendy (a Liverpool fan) put a grin on my face that would have made the Cheshire Cat look like a manic depressive even if it meant she didn't speak to me for three days afterwards. (I got forgiven, in fact it's our first wedding anniversary on August 31st ) Watching the mauling we gave Stoke when they came to the 'Bok and gained some revenge for Wembley by reversing the scoreline, seeing the night Tim Howard scored the freakiest goal ever to put Everton in front only to have us dig in and fight back to win 2-1 and many other truly awesome moments that stick in my memory all made me feel that even if we did go down we'd go down swinging and doing it the right way.
In fact I thought Owen had turned the corner when we went down. We did so by the narrowest of margins and that after having only nine points from nineteen games. We went down with 36 points, a total that would have seen us survive in three of the previous four seasons. However, I would be the first to admit that faith was misplaced. It became obvious from the first game that Owen simply had nothing left in the locker, that he couldn't lift the players and get us back up. He had to go and as much as I would wish otherwise when he was eventually fired it was the only possible decision.
But I make no bones about this when I say it was a hell of a ride while it lasted and I for one am grateful to have been a part of it. Whereas with Megson I was only grateful I got off early and more grateful still when it finally ended. As a fan I believe more than just bald stats matter and for me Megson vs Coyle is absolute proof of the fact that subjective criteria are equally important in terms of judging who was better or worse. Neither man was a good manager, in fact both were poor in purely footballing terms but for me at least Coyle was a much better man and that decides it.