“Big dicks, little dicks.”
To be honest, it’s not what I was expecting to hear from Rotherham United’s chairman.
Happily, Tony Stewart went on to clarify.
“It’s not about that. It’s about being clever dicks.”
The Millers owner was explaining what his club needed to be to compete in a division full of sides with Premier League pedigress and budgets to match.
For three years, Rotherham have pitted their wits against everything the Championship has had to throw at them.
This season has come the realisation that, after their quickfire rise from League One to the second tier, they haven’t been quite as clever as they thought.
With 13 matches remaining, they’re bottom of the table, 15 points from safety and, barring a miracle way beyond the proportions of Neil Warnock’s great escape last term, will be heading to Wimbledon, Oxford and Northampton next season rather than Newcastle, Norwich and Leeds.
After glory the Millers could only dream about in the last few seasons, this is the first real setback of Stewart’s reign.
They grew too fast on the field and, off it, were unable to keep up.
Relegation is coming, but Stewart is determined it will be only a blip.
Jamie Johnson, the new head of recruitment, and his team are already deep into their preparations for summer signings, hoping to give next year’s manager -whether that be present caretaker boss Paul Warne or someone else - every chance of righting the wrongs which have become apparent in this campaign.
In two crazy, unforgettable years, with Steve Evans at the helm, the Millers leapt from the basement division to a league often described as the fifth biggest in Europe.
Evans brought success. He also left problems.
His achievements with the Millers between 2013 and 2015 were, to quote one of his own oft-used phrases, simply stunning. Promotion. Promotion. Staying in European League Five.
But new players had arrived at the rate of more than one a fortnight during his 42 months in charge before the club finally acknowledged that that wasn’t a policy to encourage long-term stability
Warnock’s survival miracle, as he engineered an 11-match unbeaten run in his 16 games in charge, papered over the cracks.
Then came Alan Stubbs.
Stewart, the man who saved the club from administration, built New York Stadium and led the Millers out of the wilderness, has been horribly, unfairly, criticised by some supporters. Where would Rotherham be without his money and drive?
He does, admit, though, that he has made mistakes.
The biggest was Stubbs.
Within minutes of the announcement last May that Warnock wouldn’t be staying, Stewart said the next manager would have to possess experience of the Championship.
Instead, with credible candidates in short supply, he opted for a boss who had worked only in Scotland.
Stubbs was given licence to identify signings and he got it fatally wrong. Of the 13 players he brought to South Yorkshire, only Izzy Brown and Tom Adeyemi have exceeded expectations, and the Millers’ fate was well on the way to being sealed by the time he departed in October with only one win to his name.
Enter Kenny Jackett, who didn’t like it and left in about the amount of time it took you to read this sentence.
That’s not something Stewart can be blamed for. Everyone thought Jackett was the right man for a safety scrap and someone who could bring the Millers straight back up if the worst was to happen.
Five games. One point. Gone. No-one anticipated that. Jackett let the club, and the chairman, down.
If anything good came of the Stubbs era it was the recognition that a head of recruitment was an appointment which was now more important than any other.
If anything good came of the Jackett era it was that the former Wolves boss played a part in identifying Johnson, Stewart’s “recruitment guy” who has quietly impressed everyone at New York since he was headhunted from Brighton and Hove Albion at the end of last year.
With Johnson in place, Rotherham should start next pre-season in a far stronger position than they began the last one.
The Millers have taken steps towards their vision of a team of young players with substance and potential being realised.
Cleverer dicks than before.
Stewart’s major task between now and then is to decide who will be the manager to take advantage of Johnson’s input.
Will it be Warne? It might. It might not.
It was tough to watch him suffer on the sidelines last Saturday as his makeshift side went down 5-0 at Warnock’s Cardiff City. But, barring that South Wales surrender, he has kept the Millers far more competitive than anyone could have reasonably anticipated.
Just as you shudder to think what state Rotherham would be in generally without Stewart, you shudder to think what state they would in be this season without Warne.
Other names will enter the frame. The closer the season is to ending, the more attractive the Millers hot-seat becomes. Managers who were nowhere to be seen when applications were invited in December could be clamouring for it in May.
Rotherham will have spending power in League One, a supportive chairman, a clear view of how they want to move forward and the behind-the-scenes structure to back it up.
Despite this season’s morale-sapping woes, this isn’t a club in a spiral of decline, lacking investment or the will to rise again.
Warne, when he was placed in interim charge 16 fixtures ago, said he didn’t see himself as a full-time boss.
His opinion has maybe thawed as he’s grown into the job, although he has yet to publicly declare his hand.
In near-impossible circumstances, after inheriting a squad plainly too weak for the second tier, he has held playing affairs together and kept up spirits in the hour of need.
Stewart, last weekend apart, has liked what he has seen.
A revered figure among fans from his playing days when he never gave less than his all, Warne can, if he wishes, return to his old role as fitness coach, a position more secure than any manager’s tenure.
Yet this could be the one chance for a man who admits he enjoys the element of control to prove himself in the main job.
Having spent the best part of three months firefighting this season, he may think he’s earned the right to try to climb a ladder in the next one.
He’s handled everything with the humour everyone has come to expect and a degree of hardness few people realise he possesses.
Dropping players kept him awake when he first stepped into Jackett’s shoes. Now, he sleeps soundly as long as he’s done the decent thing and told them to their face why.
He’s a good human being - and we all know he likes those - but not too ‘nice’ for the challenge.
Evans, like Ronnie Moore before him, worked because he grasped and loved what Rotherham were all about. Effort, desire, unity, working-class values, upsetting the odds.
Littler dicks against bigger dicks.
Stubbs never embraced it. Jackett didn’t give himself time to.
Warne, a Millers legend for good reason, gets it more than anybody.
Paul Warne quotes:
“I call my missus ‘The First Mrs Warne’ to keep her on her toes. She’d better have bought me a remote-controlled car for Christmas or there could be trouble.” (He got a coffee machine).
“I like good human beings. I think I’m a good human being. I want to be able to look in the mirror and like the man I see.”
“I was one of the least talented players ever, but I was the best at being the least talented. I won more throw-ins than anyone.”
Alan Stubbs’ record:
14 games, one win
Kenny Jackett’s record:
Five games, no wins
Paul Warne’s record:
16 games, three wins
Paul Warne’s Millers playing record (over two spells):
Games played: 294
Goals scored: 34
Throw-ins won: Countless