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Interview With Josh Smith: Head Coach of the New England FreeJacks

By Liam Poach
Twitter: @PoacherRugby


               Major League Rugby 2020 will be here before you know it, and with it comes tons of exciting developments, additions, and changes.

               First, there is the implementation of the two-division system, in which an Eastern and Western conference will feature six teams apiece to play one another twice a year, along with a single game against each non-conference team.

                However, what most fans are excited about is the addition of three new teams to the MLR-fold. Those teams include Old Glory D.C, Rugby ATL (Atlanta), and of course, the New England FreeJacks, who will be led by local coaching legend, Josh Smith.

                For those who have met Josh, they will attest that there isn’t a whole lot more likeable guys than him in the Boston area. He’s polite, friendly, knowledgeable about the game, but his overall demeanor is still Boston-AF. To know what that means, well…you kind of have to live here.

                However, in order to give you guys some perspective, I decided to reach out to him and get the low-down on a few things happening in The Hub.

What’s your favorite aspect about being the Head Coach for a professional New England sports team?

Josh: The opportunity to help build the next great New England sports franchise in my own back yard. My family has deep roots in the community, and sports have always been a big part of our lives. It is humbling to have this opportunity, but our staff is very focused on big results year one. New England fans will expect it……..


What did you think the main takeaways were from the Cara Cup from an on-field perspective?

Josh: Cara was good for us all around as an organization. We went into it with opportunities to learn on and off the field from four outstanding organizations. Each of the academies provided different styles and focuses. My biggest take away was their patience and their attention to detail. Once we reflected on matches/numbers, we started to realize how much self-inflicted damage we did to ourselves. This will be huge for our development heading into 2020.


What about from an off-field perspective? In terms of the fan reception, marketing, etc.

Josh: The fans were awesome (Chowder Brigade), bearing some tough conditions to get out and support us. I am seeing more and more FJ’s gear around the area. Operationally, our manager Ben Nathan did a great job networking with the Irish managers to absorb their day to day plans and use that to improve our operations.


Some of your accolades include two D1-Men’s National Titles, as well as two Coach of the Year Awards. Has such a resume made the transition into a professional position a little easier?

Josh: Having year zero for trial and error has been great, also helps having Mags as the GM to lean on when needed. Moving into the full-time environment has taught me how to utilize staff, resources and time a bit more efficiently. All about clarity.


Even with all the aforementioned accomplishments, one of the things you’re most known for is your work with the North East Rugby Academy. Given your experience with that, do you think the FreeJacks will be innovative in terms of their American recruiting strategy beyond the collegiate system?

Josh: We want to support our local clubs, colleges and youth programs to continue to develop a robust local competition. That keeps the great local rivalries and allows better player identification process for the FJ’s. Also allows us to help develop coaches, staff, and players at an earlier age. It is all about getting people on the best pathways.


If you had to choose just one forward and one back for fans to get excited for in 2020, who would they be and why?

Josh:

 Jackson Thiebes- Excited to see his continued development at the MLR level (16 matches) and maybe beyond.

Tadhg Leader- He has been a great an ambassador for our club both on and off the pitch.


If you could recruit one player from the New England Patriots to play rugby (other than Nate Ebner), who would it be?

Josh: Tom Brady because it's Tom Brady. Of course, pending Gronk’s retirement.

(Reader’s Note: Most people in New England don’t buy the whole “Gronk is retired” thing. Maybe we're fooling ourselves, or maybe that's what we want you to think.)

What’s the best place to get food in the Boston area? (Come on, it’s got to be somewhere on the North Shore, right?)

Josh: (Hidden gem) Bob’s Italian Foods in Medford or Bancroft in Burlington.

(Reader's Note: Neither of those places are on the North Shore. Guess I'll have to send Josh a gift certificate to Captain's Roast Beef in Swampscott. Seriously, until you've tried a Massachusetts style roast beef sandwich, you can consider yourself to have never eaten a roast beef sandwich in your life.) 


While to fans, the smoke is still clearing from 2019, front offices around the league are already looking ahead, and the crew up in New England is no different. With perhaps one of the greatest regional sport legacies in the country to live up to, all eyes will be on the red, white, and blue jerseys.