Newcastle Jets chief executive Lawrie McKinna is taking over as the club’s youth coach and will serve as a mentor for former striker Labinot Haliti.
A-League assistant Clayton Zane has been coaching the Jets Youth through the Northern NSW National Premier League this year “as a favour” to the club but he will now focus solely on his first-team job alongside new boss Ernie Merrick.
McKinna said he would replace Zane as youth coach after the team’s round 16 game against Hamilton Olympic at Darling Street Oval on Saturday and Haliti, who finished his playing career with the Jets after last season, would be his assistant with a view to one day taking over.
A foundation coach at the Central Coast Mariners, McKinna guided the club to two A-League grand finals and a minor premiership.
However, McKinna has not coached since leaving Chinese Super League club Chongqing Dangdai Lifan in April 2012.
The former NSL and A-League coach of the year said he was returning to help Haliti and believed he would have no problem adding the youth role to his off-field duties from the Jets’ new administration headquarters at Newcastle university.
“Labi is keen to get into coaching and he’s done his B-licence now, but he’s not ready to go straight into coaching the youth team,” McKinna said.
“And because we’ve moved out to the Uni now, where the office is, they train at No.3 oval, so I just said that for the time being I’d do it.
“We’ll just get the NPL season out of the way and see how he’s going and I might continue on, but because I’m here with the offices, it’s accessible and it’s not taking a lot of time.
“I spoke with Ernie first and he’s really happy about it.”
The Jets are keen to keep Haliti at the club and McKinna was happy to offer his services as a mentor.
“It’s a lot different from being a player to being a coach,” he said.
“Labi can have all the enthusiasm in the world but it’s totally different. I went through it as a player myself, so it will be good for him and I’ll enjoy it too, being back on the park as well.
“I’m keen. I’ve won a few things as a coach, so I think I can qualify to be the NPL coach.”
The Jets Youth do not feature in the NPL finals and have seven games remaining this season before preparing for the National Youth League.
McKinna conceded he may miss training occasionally because of his CEO duties but he would “subsidise that with getting other people involved”.
He and Haliti were working this week with an under-18 Jets team to prepare for the July 23-29 Weifang Cup in China.
Paul Gomez has been as an assistant to Zane with the youth side this year. McKinna said the club will look to get Gomez involved with the Emerging Jets program, which the A-League organisation will take over in October.