Ian Brightwell began his coaching career at Port Vale in June 2003.
After leaving Vale in June 2004, he joined Macclesfield Town as reserve team coach in the summer of that year. In conjunction with his coaching duties, he remained registered as a player, and played in the 2004/05, 2005/06 and 2006/07 seasons.
In October 2006, Brightwell was appointed caretaker manager of Macclesfield, after the departure of manager of Brian Horton, before Paul Ince took charge on a permanent basis.
When Ince left Macclesfield to take over at MK Dons in June 2007, the club appointed Brightwell as manager, with Asa Hartford as his assistant. He would remain in the role until February 2008.
In October 2008 Brightwell was brought to Port Vale by Dean Glover as coach, with his spell ending in February 2009.
As a player, Brightwell began his career at Manchester City and he was part of the 1986 FA Youth Cup winning team, before breaking into the first team in the mid-1980s.
Brightwell was known for his versatility as he played at every single outfield position during his career at the club. At the end of the 1997/98 season and after 378 first-team appearances, Brightwell had a testimonial.
He went on to represent Coventry City, Walsall, Stoke City, Port Vale and Macclesfield Town. He also won four England U21 caps scoring two goals.