McLean grew up in Ashgill, Lanarkshire, along with his elder brothers Jim and Willie, who would also become successful players and managers. A traditional tricky winger, McLean started his career at Kilmarnock, where at one point all three brothers were at the club together, Jim and Tommy as players and Willie as a coach. He joined Rangers in 1971 for £65,000 and was involved in the clubs famous 1972 Cup Winners Cup triumph. He went on to play 452 times for Rangers, winning three League championships, four Scottish Cups and three Scottish League Cups.
McLean was capped six times by Scotland, with, perhaps surprisingly, all his appearances coming as a Kilmarnock player. He also represented the Scottish League XI seven times.
After his playing career he became Rangers' assistant manager. Thereafter he had spells in management with Morton, Motherwell (a ten-year spell during which the club won the Scottish Cup in 1991), Hearts, Raith Rovers and Dundee United, before becoming Under-19 coach at Rangers.
His spell at Raith Rovers in 1996 was remarkable for lasting only six days and encompassing only one game; the lure of working under his brother Jim, by then chairman of Dundee United, saw him quit Stark's Park for Tannadice amidst substantial acrimony.
McLean returned to Rangers in May 2001 as director of youth development, after he had held a similar post at Dundee United since October 2000.
Tommy is married to wife Beth. Their daughter Lorna was born in 1991