Tony Smith Q&A as new Hull FC head coach sets out ambitions and challenges

Tony Smith was unveiled as Hull FC’s new head coach last week, crossing the city divide from his last job at Hull KR to replace fellow Australian Brett Hodgson.

How did this appointment come about?

I’ve been meeting with some fantastic organisations; doing some work for Sporting Chance, who I’ve been patron for; some link-up with the LMA (League Managers Association). I was exploring the next chapter in my life, and up until a week and a half ago when I got a text from Adam (Pearson, Hull FC owner) asking if I would have any interest, I had no idea what I was going to do. I won’t say that isn’t a bit stressful, even as an experienced coach. I was nervous I may not get one of those positions again for a while. I was enjoying it so much and I think I’m okay at it. I certainly get my buzz out of it. 

I went on a visit to Leicester Tigers a few weeks ago to see my good friend Kevin Sinfield and see what they’re doing in pre-season. It reminded me how much I love coaching. On the drive home, I rang my wife and said: ‘I’m missing it’. Just being around the environment. I was exploring some other things outside our sport, and then I went, ‘it’s actually what I love’. So I’m fortunate and very grateful that this opportunity has arisen. I get my kicks, my buzz and my enjoyment out of coaching.

Adam Pearson says you will be involved in all areas of the club – is that wide remit music to your ears?

I like to be involved in it. I don’t want to run the whole club. Anybody who says I do, absolutely not. I just like to be involved in a well-run club. I care about how many shirts we sell; I care about all that. I know the direct link to the team performing well, how much revenue we bring in, how many people want to restore their membership, I care about all that, it matters. We’re all in this together. I don’t like it when it’s ‘you’re over there and this is your department’. We’re all interdependent on each other and all I want is a connected-up environment. 

What are the biggest things that need fixing here?

As a team, some of the performances haven’t been good enough to win enough in the competition. I’m always going to be very respectful of who I come in behind and the coaches that have had influence on this club before me, because they try their hardest and best and contribute to what happens in the future. So yes, we need to perform better on the pitch, but there’s a whole lot of things we’ve got to keep on improving across the board. 

Some of this is about our connection with our supporters. I’m not silly, I understand that within this city we need to produce stuff that makes them proud, that they enjoy, that makes them want to renew their membership. We’ve got to improve right across the board. That’s not to say everything is bad, quite the opposite. There are some really good aspects to the team, and that’s exciting. I’m grateful to everybody that has influenced that. But there’s still some stuff that needs to be improved and hopefully I can help in those areas.

Where should Hull be on a consistent basis?

It’s a big club. When we talk about big clubs, we want to be talked about with Wigan, St Helens and Leeds. The salary cap makes it difficult for all of us to really raise our heads, so we have to find other ways of doing that and for us it’s going to be about performance, trying to consistently be in those play-off areas to give ourselves a chance. 

I don’t often talk about winning stuff because I don’t want to give people false expectations and put that added responsibility on. But I’ve won a couple of Grand Finals, only at one club. I missed out three times at another club. No other coach has done it at two clubs. I’d like to be the first coach to win the Grand Final at two different clubs and hopefully that can be at this club.

Are you prepared for it to be a long-term job?

I don’t look too far ahead. I’m happy to go year-by-year. I understand clubs aren’t. Adam wanted me for a two-year deal and I’m happy to do that, but I’m also more than happy to back myself as a coach and say ‘listen, I’ll do the best for you this year. If you want me again next year, I’ll do it again next year.’ I went to Warrington for two years and stayed there for nine. You can’t predict those things and I won’t try to. But I’ll give everything through the next two years and we’ll see what happens. Hopefully we’ll have a good journey, an exciting one and one we can all be proud of.

Will there be significant changes to the squad before next season?

In terms of playing staff I don’t think there’s going to be a whole lot of change, from what we’ve talked about, and I’m fine with that. I don’t think there’s much scope for us this year. If there’s no trade, that’s fine. My job is to get the best out of whatever squad I’ve got, to make them better players. If it’s the squad that we’ve presently got, I’m more than happy. There’s some experienced talent there and there’s some young talent, so I’m excited about working with all that, and getting to know them. I’ll give them all a chance to prove themselves.

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