Nashville SC took the next step towards Major League Soccer, announcing their head coach on Wednesday. At a press event at First Tennessee Park, the club confirmed that Gary Smith would remain with the club, where he currently is the Head Coach and Managing Director of Soccer Operations for Nashville in USL.
"Selecting the right coach is one of the most important tasks at any club," said Nashville SC CEO Ian Ayre in the club's press release. "As we set out to build our MLS team and Mike (Jacobs) and I conducted our search throughout the game for a head coach, we always kept coming back to Gary as the first and best candidate for the job."
"We need someone who understands the nuances of the U.S. game, someone that has experience of working with domestic and international players, someone with a history of developing young talent, someone who believed in our vision for the club, and most importantly someone who is a winner. Gary fits that bill perfectly. Alongside those attributes, the value of the continuity of having Gary already at Nashville SC and working with our team for the 2019 USL season make for a fantastic outcome."
Smith has been with the club since April 2017, helping to construct the roster and prepare the club for its debut in 2018. Smith led the first-year club to an 8th place finish and a playoff berth, finishing with a 12-13-9 record. Nashville exited the playoffs in the first round at the hands of FC Cincinnati, but not before taking the regular season champions to penalty kicks.
After a 12 year playing career with clubs like Fulham, Wycombe, and Aylesbury United, Smith entered management in 2008 with the Colorado Rapids, winning an MLS Cup in 2010. He has a career record of 69-54-56, with 281 goals for and 261 goals against.
UPDATED WITH QUOTES FROM THE PRESS CONFERENCE
Nashville SC CEO Ian Ayre: "We were hugely encouraged by the diversity of candidates available... of course we're very pleased by the final outcome. Throughout the process, [the job] was almost Gary's to lose."
Ayre: "It was important to us that our head coach had experience here in the domestic league, as well as with different types of players... who fit with our vision and our needs within the club."
Ayre: "I believe that a lot of success in big clubs comes from cohesion between the CEO, general manager, and head coach. We certainly have that."
Ayre: "It isn't just about the football side. The relationship that Gary has developed with our supporters has been truly outstanding, and also the relationship he has with our front office staff."
Nashville SC Head Coach Gary Smith: "I'm not sure I'll be able to express how elated I am to be the head coach of this club, and the first coach in MLS."
Smith: "The relationship that has been built with Mike, the way the group has come together on the field, the fans at First Tennessee... when I look at the foundations that have been built already, we have a lot to look forward to in MLS."
Smith: "From the ownership down, the values of what we try and represent here are incredible. I'm extremely happy to be a part of it and look forward to what the future brings. I hope that within time, I'm able to repay the faith that has been shown and deliver an MLS Cup."
Smith on his additional duties this year ahead of MLS in 2020: "It gives me a wonderful opportunity to take stock of what the group is now, the players, who's in the right place to make that jump. But also to build and foster the identity of our club. The fans are warming to a feel and identity and style of the team. To be honest, there won't be too many changes in that area. A big part of my job is to make sure that the fans are entertained. That the players perform to a professional level, and that fans are proud to watch. We've got a big season ahead of us [in USL]. We want to build momentum. I don't see any reason' with the caliber of players that we have, why we can't have success."
Smith: "If you look at the most successful [MLS] teams at the moment, teams like Red Bull, they have a specific, front foot style of play and an academy to bring players through. I also look at Kansas. The model there is very different, the way the trade for players and build there. So while the league has changed [since I coached in MLS], the game is still the same. But as the game gets better, you need to keep up with that level. What we'll do is make sure that we utilize every single opportunity we can to push the boundaries."
Ayre on what's next: "We probably have to play some soccer at some point. But we have an awful lot of players to recruit for 2020, front office staff, technical staff, tickets for next year, merchandising, our first jersey. We really are one year out. Gary's appointment was crucial to the technical side, especially in terms of the recruitment process."