Gary Smith, Ian Ayre - Nashville SC
Courtesy of Nashville SC

Ian Ayre long knew Gary Smith was right to lead Nashville SC into MLS

Nashville SC CEO Ian Ayre has long known who he wanted to lead the expansion side as the club's first MLS head coach for 2020.

On Wednesday, that confidence was made official as Ayre announced that Gary Smith, who manages the club's USL side, has been appointed Nashville's first MLS head coach

"Gary was always our preferred choice right from the outset," Ayre said at a news conference at First Tennessee Park.

Smith, who managed the Colorado Rapids from 2009-11 and delivered the club's only MLS Cup triumph in 2010, joined Nashville ahead of their inaugural USL season and couldn't be happier to continue as the club transitions to MLS in 2020. 

"I'm not sure I'll be able to express how elated I am to be moving forward with the club and being the first MLS head coach for Nashville," Smith said. "It's a very proud moment."

While Ayre was confident Smith was the man for the job, he did his due diligence with a full coaching search. All the while, his original preference towards Smith grew. 

"We started by trying to define what the best coach we could have would look like," Ayre said. "As we started to do that, we had a guy in the building that was doing that job and started to tick the boxes. I had the conversation with Gary very early on: We absolutely would love you to be the coach. But we had to be respectful to the new club, by doing the work to ensure that it was the right choice. We never really had much doubt."

In Smith's first season with Nashville, the club enjoyed a 12W-9L-13D regular-season record and qualified for the USL Cup Playoffs, where they fell to regular-season champs FC Cincinnati in a draw decided by a penalty-kick shootout in the quarterfinal round.

"Gary is never happier than when he's in his tracksuit out on the training field," Ayre said. "We were fortunate to get to see that, Gary interacting with our current squad of players. As we move forward, it's an important part of our culture that we want to build." 

Smith last parting ways with the Rapids in 2011, Smith went on to manage Stevenage in his native country before returning stateside to coach NASL side Atlanta Silverbacks from 2014-16. 

Since he last marauded an MLS touchline, the league has changed thoroughly as it improves and evolves. Smith isn't worried about acclimating to the changes.

"I've still watched a hell of a lot of MLS soccer, it's the pinnacle of soccer in this country," Smith said. "It's been a regular for me anyway. In all sports, you have periods where styles and tactics are more prevalent. The league certainly has improved."

Ayre's last managerial appointment was in 2015, when he oversaw Liverpool's hire of Jurgen Klopp. 

"My hope is," Smith explained, "at some point in time, I can repay the faith that was shown by bringing a Cup to Nashville."