Atkinson, surprisingly sacked by Aston Villa in November, was widely tipped to take over even before Neal's 16-month tenure was terminated "by mutual agreement". The settlement of Atkinson's compensation claim against Villa last week removed any legal obstacle to his returning and, it transpired, signalled the end for Neal. Saturday's win at Crystal Palace, the Sky Blues' first in 12 Premiership games, came too late to save him.
The former Liverpool and England defender learned that his reign was over when the Coventry chairman, Bryan Richardson, visited the club's Warwickshire training ground on his way to a board meeting.
Atkinson, who reportedly spent the day shopping, playing tennis and preparing for his stint as ITV summariser at Liverpool tonight, later confirmed that he had been approached. He is understood to have spent the evening discussing his plans with Richardson.
Coventry's vice-chairman, Mike McGinnity, was a West Bromwich Albion director during Atkinson's last spell at The Hawthorns. They remained friends and when Coventry's descent to the bottom five prompted them to ponder a change, thoughts inevitably turned to Atkinson.
A self-confessed "adopted Brummie", who will be 56 next month, Atkinson cited long motorway journeys as a reason for his defection from Sheffield Wednesday to Villa. The proximity of Highfield Road to his Worcestershire home was another factor in Coventry's favour.
Atkinson, whose contract is expected to be worth £200,000 a year, attempted to sign Strachan, whom he brought from Aberdeen to Manchester United 11 years ago, from Leeds for both Wednesday and Villa. Sources close to Coventry now expect him to try again, dangling the prospect of a coaching post and eventual succession to his own job.
Strachan, who recently retired as a first-team player at the age of 37 because of persistent injuries, may have to be convinced that he would not be sacrificing the opportunity to become Leeds manager in the long term.
Others in line for a place on Atkinson's backroom team are Garry Pendrey, the former Birmingham manager and Wolves coach; Brian Whitehouse, his chief scout at United and Villa; and Colin Clarke, coach to Villa's successful youth team until the advent of Brian Little. The first recruit to the playing staff is likely to be Kevin Richardson, his captain at Villa Park.
Atkinson would become Coventry's 14th manager during 28 years' unbroken membership of the top division, and their fifth in the last three years. Their present plight follows a barren run, prior to last Saturday, which dates back to the start of December. At that time, having ploughed the £4.5m received for Phil Babb and Peter Atherton into team-strengthening, they stood 10th in the table and Neal's position looked secure.
An emotional Neal said: "I'm leaving with a lot of sadness and an appeal to all those whingers who seem to enjoy continual sniping at the club and at certain players. For the next 14 games, back your team to the hilt and join me in willing the continuation of Premiership football at Coventry."Reuse content