Colchester boss Hayden Mullins is eager to prove his worth in his first senior managerial role and help inspire the next generation of coaches from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.
The 42-year-old was given the job at the Sky Bet League Two club on a permanent basis in May after he guided them to safety during a caretaker spell in charge last season.
It means there are currently eight managers in the top four leagues of English football from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, which – according to PA news agency data – is a joint-best figure since the Premier League started in 1992.
Mullins told the PA news agency: “It has got better which is really encouraging and I have been given an opportunity, but only time will tell whether I am good enough. I need to be good enough to be able to do my position well and stay in my position.
“This is probably the best it has been but there is still room for improvement, definitely. When you think of the amount of black players we have related to the coaches and managers there are, that is still nowhere near enough.
“It is not even just that, it is directors as well and people higher up on the board, you don’t see many people who are black in those positions, so there is a long way to go – but it is getting better.
“And what we do now is we address these issues and it is not an embarrassing topic to talk about. Before I feel like race and other similar things people wouldn’t like to talk about, but now we talk, identify the problems and try to deal with them, which is good.”
When Chris Hughton was sacked by Brighton two years ago, it meant only four managers from black and ethnic minorities held positions in the top 92 clubs in the UK.
That same summer the EFL made it policy that clubs must interview at least one candidate from those backgrounds and while Mullins is eager to earn an opportunity, not be given it, the change appears to be helping.
This is probably the best it has been but there is still room for improvement, definitely. When you think of the amount of black players we have related to the coaches and managers there are, that is still nowhere near enough.Hayden Mullins
Crystal Palace hiring Patrick Vieira coupled with Colchester’s appointment helps ensure the next generation of coaches from black and ethnic minority backgrounds have even more role models on the touchline with Nuno Espirito Santo, Valerien Ismael, Hughton, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Darren Moore and Keith Curle also holding jobs.
“It is nice to be looked at as someone who is a role model and someone to aspire to,” Mullins admitted 12 months after a stint in charge of Watford in the Premier League.
“At the same time, it is not easy. It is hard work so as long as people are willing to put the work in then for sure they will get the rewards.
“The first port of call is to get more coaches from black and ethnic minority backgrounds onto the courses so they understand what it takes and to give them the belief to do that role.
When the U’s made the former Crystal Palace and West Ham midfielder their manager in May, it was the latest twist in a dramatic 18 months.
In December 2019, Mullins, then-Watford Under-23 boss, was made first-team caretaker after Quique Sanchez Flores was sacked and while the stint only lasted two matches, new boss Nigel Pearson kept him as part of the coaching team.
Fast forward six months and when Pearson was dismissed with the Vicarage Road outfit still fighting relegation, the rookie coach was tasked with securing Premier League survival. A 4-0 defeat to Manchester City and a 3-2 loss at Arsenal on July 26 ultimately saw that goal not achieved.
But Mullins admitted: “You can’t really prepare yourself for it unless you live through it. It was one of those experiences which at the time wasn’t particular enjoyable, but it was invaluable for me on my coaching pathway and to be a manager now.
“It was unique and priceless. You couldn’t pay for something like that on a coaching course and you can never prepare for what I went through so I am lucky I had that really.
“Even though it wasn’t down to me, the position Watford were in, the pressure I felt to get results for the club was huge.”
In spite of the ultimate baptism of fire, it gave Mullins the taste for management and after four years at Watford in numerous roles, he made the decision to leave in September to join Colchester as Steve Ball’s assistant.
History would go on to repeat itself with the ex-Hornets coach handed the caretaker reins in March but three wins from their final five games ensured safety was masterminded this time and a week after the conclusion of the campaign he agreed to become the Essex club’s head coach.
“A positive season would be a top-half finish. Where we finished last time (20th), we want to stay well clear of that,” he said.
“In terms of myself, I want to reach as high as I can as a coach and manager. I am sure I will find my level, wherever that may be. I just hope I can fulfil and learn as much as I can to try to keep progressing and improving.
“I am ambitious and not afraid to go to a level which is a good and top level, but doesn’t have the riches of the Premier League. I wanted to experience that to better myself.”