Each month Mile High Sports Magazine sits down with an important figure in Colorado sports. For March, Lauren Gardner spoke with new Colorado Rapids Head Coach Anthony Hudson, who took the reins in November as the eighth head coach in club history.
Lauren Gardner: You are an up-and-coming coach. Start at the beginning with the pedigree – obviously your father was a very well-known player, born in Seattle, but raised in London, how did that all work?
Anthony Hudson: My dad (Alan Hudson) had a big career as a player. He was at Chelsea. He played at Arsenal, played for England, and then when he came and played out in the old NASL, that’s where I was born. So, he played for the Seattle Sounders in the NASL and then he came back and played for Stoke City. He had a good spell at Stoke, Stoke City. So growing up I sort of lived between Stoke, Stoke-on-Trent, which is where Stoke City is, and then down in London by Chelsea.
So where is Stoke relative to London?
Two-and-a-half hours away, up north.
Is it a big city, a small town?
No, it’s not the biggest; it’s not the place you would go and visit if you are traveling, but it was a great part of my life. The people in Stoke, they are just great people. They are so down to earth. But the biggest thing about Stoke, the people and the fans, they are just amazing fans, the support is really incredible. So, yeah, as a kid it was good. It was a good experience.
So kind of like that blue-collar setting?
Very much so.
How do you think that shaped you as you went into your playing career and now as a coach?
As a young kid when you are around that environment — first of all — going to games as a young kid, and just hearing the atmosphere and the fans. You are standing in the stands as a kid and what you want to do is be on the pitch playing in front of those fans. And having a father that played for the team, I can’t tell you the amount of people that, when they knew who my dad was, would come up to me. Sometimes I would have grown men in tears talking about the team, talking about the great times.
Just because you are related to him?
Just because of the great times my dad gave Stoke. My dad was incredible at Stoke. Those experiences as a kid, they have an effect on you. They really do. Football is such a powerful thing, and I think the other part of it is hanging around with my dad and seeing him, he was my hero as a kid, I wanted to be like him, I wanted to play like him. Like every kid, your dad is your hero, and so he’s such a big influence on your life as a kid.
Which moment in particular stood out to you? I’m sure you spent a lot of time in locker rooms and behind the scenes, and I’m sure some of those guys, even they were larger-than-life, were just guys to you.
I think the biggest thing when you grow up — one of the biggest things — was you really have to start having your own beliefs and your own ideas about the game. When you grow up with such strong personalities in the game, when you are young, you kind of adopt those ideas and adopt those beliefs. So I think growing up was finding my own way in the game, not just as a player, but as a young man and it was all just an incredible experience.
What specifically have you brought with you that you learned from your father?
It’s funny, because I probably learned some really good things off my dad and I learned some very, very good things off my mother. I have an older brother, 10 years older than me, big age gap, and he was involved in football. Everyone, they were very strong characters within their own right. They all had incredibly strong traits in their own way as well. My mom was a worker and she just worked.
What did she do?
My mom has been in the health industry, so as a kid, literally my impression in my mind is that she just works, she works, gets her head down — something that’s really left an impression on me for sure.
My dad is very simple-minded in how he thinks. He has a huge amount of confidence in who he is and his beliefs around the game and his attitude. So these things have an effect on you. I think they are very positive lessons.
What did you learn from your playing career that you were able to kind of apply? Obviously you had this experience that a lot of people aren’t able to get being a son of a major player.
I actually started coaching when I was about 23 or 24. I finished playing when I was probably 22. The biggest thing for me, which was an incredible lesson, was just the disappointment of not fulfilling my dreams as a young player. I think that disappointment, it’s hard, its heavy. Every waking minute of your childhood, early teens and growing up, you obsessively have one thought. When it doesn’t happen, it leaves a big void in your life. I think the disappointment from that ended up becoming a huge driver.
When I was afforded the opportunity to start coaching, and I realized not only do I love coaching, I felt I have a chance to do well here and I loved it and I couldn’t get enough of studying about the game and I wanted to grow I wanted to find out new ideas. When I started on this path, I think I really felt I had been given another chance. I made a decision and I committed that I would never make the same mistakes and I would never sort of die wondering. I was just going to completely commit to it. That was an objective for me as a coach. So that was it, it’s been a great journey. Since then, it’s been an incredible journey, it’s taken me all around the world. It’s been an incredible experience, but it’s been a great journey so far.
In all the stops you have made in your coaching career, which one did you get the most out of?
There have been so many different experiences. I think the biggest one that probably most people don’t like talking about is getting fired. I think I had about six years coaching in America then I went back to England before I was ready to go back and manage in England. I had a job at Tottenham Hotspur, but I wasn’t really interested in that one. I wanted to go be my own manager. I wanted to drop down in the leagues. I ended up doing that and we got off to a great start and then the following season we didn’t get off to a great start; I was 30 or 29 at the time. Getting fired, the aftermath of that is pretty powerful. And I think when you get through the sort of grieving process, or however you want to put it, when you get through that, then it’s a case of the determination to prove people wrong and the determination to find answers — why things happened the way they did, what do I need to do better, completely look at yourself in terms of how you are approaching your coaching philosophy and methods. So I think that was the most powerful experience
How would you say your coaching, just your vision, has evolved?
My vision has evolved as a result of me not having had a sort of a silver spoon as a coach.
What do you mean by that?
Because I started coaching [at a young age]. I didn’t have a big name as a player to open a door for me. You had to earn it, and I think that forces you to. You don’t always have the best; you don’t always have the most. You are normally working within a very limited budget in comparison to bigger teams. I think all of it, you have a choice, you can either buy results or situations, or you can try and find ways to be more resourceful, you can try and study more and find ways to win. I remember my first manager’s job, head coaching job, was in America. I was 27, we had no money and I was earning next to nothing, I remember living in a basement — a freezing-cold basement just outside Washington D.C. It wasn’t [warm] at that time, and I remember my first preseason, I got walking pneumonia, but the context was everyone around the place was saying, “He is too young to get the job; he’s got no experience.” So, I was suddenly coming to a situation where within a few weeks, you are working 24/7 and you got walking pneumonia, and in my mind, I can’t let anyone know. If the owners find out, they are starting to think, “He can’t handle it, young man,” all this stuff. Can’t show any weakness. So, you go through these experiences and it sort of becomes the making of you and they just become great experiences. We had a great time. We had no money and I was struggling to pay wages, and as you go along you have to find ways to the players and keep the players engaged and still prepare the team tactically and all these sort of different situations where I think if I had a big name as a player and I am working [for] a top club, then maybe I don’t get those experiences and I don’t have to improve myself in different areas.
How are you able to kind of find a balance and make sure that everything is very regimented and you kind of still keep your edge while maybe having that translate over to the players side?
It’s been a good preseason. I’m of the nature where you always want more. You are always going to demand more, you always want more from your staff, you always want more from your players, you always want more from yourself. I don’t think I’m the type of character that will ever get comfortable, would ever get complacent, like nothing’s been achieved. Now, the objective is to win a championship, it’s to build a team that can win a championship, and until it happens, it’s just restless, very uncomfortable, and we’re finding a way to try and keep pushing the team and players and the club forward. That’s the mission.
What’s your overall vision?
My stamp, simply, is I want to put a team on the pitch that our fans are proud of, and for me, fans that are proud of the team is a team that are 100 percent committed to the fans, to themselves, aggressive in how they play with and without the ball and have a strong, strong game plan in terms of everyone knows what they are doing, we play together, and a team that’s just brave, we don’t fear anyone, we don’t care who we play against. Now, again, sitting here in an interview and saying these things is all very good. And you hear a lot of people say these things, but one thing I know for sure is that the front office, with the vision that everyone has and how everyone’s working, and the belief I have in the staff, myself, I know we’ll get there. I know we’ll deliver a team that makes the fans proud and with that will come results.
You seem very detail-oriented, take us through that.
I just think over time, in the end there is no right or wrong way, it’s about getting results, and my way is not the right way, it is just what I believe in. Not only does it work for me, but I believe in it, it makes sense to me. When I say we are going to deliver a team that the fans are proud of, well, then you have to work back from there and there are certain values, there is a certain work ethic to that, there is a certain level of accountability that leads to that, performances like that. There is a certain drive and how you approach every day, so it is part of the process that you build to get the end result.
How have the players adapted and really adjusted to your style?
It’s been great. I think the players, the attitude of the players, so far has been incredible. It’s tough because the new coach comes in — new ideas and not only new coach, but new players as well — and I think when you have new players come in, a lot of new players, it’s uncomfortable, it’s uncomfortable for the current players. Sometimes you are asking players to do things that they are not normally accustomed to, they can do it, but they are not normally accustomed to doing it. Its uncomfortable, saying that, there has been no resistance, the players have been placed, they have been willing to learn, they have been willing to take information on board, and the evidence to me is that they are trying to put it into practice – we have assignments to do. But where we started on day one to where we are now, we are making really good strides, I am enjoying it, we always need more. I’m pleased; it’s been good and everyone is aligned. We all want the team to play in a certain way, which is probably why I am here, because we sort of fit together. Because of that, everyone is pushing in their own areas, in the same direction with scouting and recruiting and everything, so it’s been good.
How has Tim Howard handled this adjustment? What has he done to help you out?
I have been in, I don’t know how many teams I have managed, maybe four teams, and when I first took over I was 31. The captain was 35.
What was that like?
I think people make a big deal of these things. In the end, it’s not really about how old you are. I think players want to know, ‘Can you help me become a better player? Can you help us win?’ If what you are doing makes sense, and if you are coming at it from a right direction, or believe in what it’s all about, I think you get your respect. It’s not about age. but I think I have taken over four teams, I would say [Tim Howard], the captain in this club, is not only incredibly successful, not only is he a great player, he is a great human being as well. And from my start here has been, I don’t think you could have asked for a better. Now listen, other people in this business wouldn’t say anything else other than what I’ve just said, but the reality is, he’s completely embraced how we want to play, he’s been incredibly respectful, he’s just the ultimate professional. He’s a team player, he wants to win. That’s the bottom line. In fact, forget everything else, he wants to win. And, so do I. I’ve come here for nothing, like I don’t care if I don’t see, someone asked me the other day what do you want to experience in Colorado. Like, I don’t care; I don’t care if I see anything in Colorado – that’s fine as long as we win a championship.
I can tell you have a one-track mind.
Yeah, and for me, that’s the way Tim Howard is, so he’s been good. He’s helped my job, made my job easier so far.
What’s your philosophy when it comes to analytics and coaching and how do you combine it with the eye test?
I just think, with however you can use stats or analysis to help reinforce your methods or what you are asking of a player. If any of that can help, you can speed up the process, then its good for us. If analytics can help us, the question is, ‘Can it help us play better on a Saturday?’ And if the answer is yes, then we are going to use it. So, we brought the analyst over from New Zealand, he’s incredible at his job, he works 24/7, and he’s good. His value to the team is incredible. I can tell someone something about what I want them to do, but showing them is a lot more powerful. And so he just helps us in lots of different areas in terms of making decisions, in terms of keeping people accountable, all these things. When you have [information] that backs you up, it’s the truth. And that’s what we are trying to get to, we want to make things as black and white as possible. Clarity overall, high level of accountability, you can’t have one without the other. You can’t keep people accountable if they don’t completely know what their role is. So, if we can just make their role as clear as possible by using whatever means we can, then we have the opportunity to keep people accountable.
How are you communicating with your players?
Well, you can imagine preseason is pretty long — long and intense — double sessions, and travel in between, so you are on the training pitch everyday, at team meetings with the players, so you are in regular contact, one on ones with the players. As the season goes on, we’ll do more different things, small groups, that type of stuff. And it’s just continually evolving, but certainly we are around each other enough for me not to be sending text messages.
Do you consider yourself hip on these things? Are you big on social media? Do you interact with the fans that way?
It’s a tricky environment because once you are in it, once you are in that area, you are in it and it can be quite messy at times. I am very open [and will] inform the fans of where we are at and what I am thinking of where we are taking the team. I am really honest as I can be, I really am, but I think social media is something I have never really embraced in terms of really getting involved. One thing I have loved about being here with the Rapids is how they are approaching these things – social media and that type of stuff. So if there is certain things that can help me connect with the fans without me completely jumping into it, I will definitely look at that.
What is one thing people may not know about you?
I drink too much tea everyday. Far too much tea. I think the biggest thing is that everyone knows I like dogs. I love dogs. I’ve got two dogs. I’ve got two Rhodesian ridgebacks; I’ve just always loved those. I’m a dog person, and I didn’t plan it this way. It’s been an amazing escape for me whenever I have needed to get away from football — that’s my disconnect, and they have sort of traveled around the world as well, they have been to the Middle East, they have been to New Zealand, they have been to England, so they have been along on the journey as well. And they are there when I most need to get away and reflect, and that’s helped me. I think that’s probably the biggest thing, my dogs.