Smit has overseen a host of changes during his still relatively short tenure, and although the former Sharks and Bok skipper admits they haven’t all panned out as he may initially have foreseen, he remains positive that the results will come.
This year, it has been a tumultuous start to a new era under the guidance of director of rugby Gary Gold and technical director Brendan Venter, but Smit said he had full faith that the future of the franchise was in good hands.
“I’ve been really impressed with the way Gary has dealt with the pressure and various challenges so far this season. He’s come in and only joined the team a couple of weeks before Super Rugby kicked off, and while the results haven’t been exactly what we would have wanted, he’s desperate to get it right.
“He’s shouldered a lot of responsibility and got really close to his players, and that to me is key for long-term success. Gary knows he has our backing, but he just wants to get things right because this is a proud franchise and he is passionate about it.”
Venter has also stepped into a new role as a coaching consultant, generally spending one day a week with the Sharks.
“There is a lot of talk about Brendan, but the day I called Gary, his one condition was to be able to use Brendan as a consultant,” Smit commented. “Some people perceive him as an egotistical guy, but it’s furthest from the truth. He’s willing to listen to anyone and consider other points of views.
“Brendan comes in to provide another view point, technically he is so good and he reads the environment so well. Gary’s transition has really been quite seamless and everyone knows where they stand.”
For this Super Rugby season the Sharks have employed a big coaching team, which includes last year’s Currie Cup head coach Brad Macleod-Henderson, assistants Sean Everitt and Paul Anthony, as well as newcomer Michael Horak as defence and kicking coach.
“Over the last nine weeks I can tell you Gary has been more and more impressed with the people around him,” Smit emphasised. “Gary has relied on these guys and become close to them in a short amount of time.”
With regards to long-term planning and the possibility of Gold eventually settling into a more traditional director of rugby role, focusing on the well-being of the entire franchise from the top to the bottom, Smit said this would be discussed in due course.
“We want one message to go out through all our systems and to ensure the whole product is presented properly. This is something Gary will be able to consider once he has the time available, but we’ve had a lot of changes, so we need just some consistency now.”
And although the Sharks have faced some challenges on and off the field in recent times, there has been a positive financial turnaround over the last year or so.
“Ironically in times like this I think this is the best I’ve felt from a business point of view,” Smit acknowledged. “I think I finally have a really good understanding of how things work, why they work, why they don’t. I’ve been here nearly two years now and spent a lot of time trying to figure out quite a lot of untidiness. We’re almost at that stage now where we can start new initiatives and focus on creating new business, rather than fixing the old business.”
However, Smit conceded it was an ongoing effort to try and draw fans back to King’s Park in their numbers.
“We’ve really made a massive effort to try and get people excited and back to the ground. There have been challenges, but we’ve just got to stick at it, there has been a lot of changes. We have to continue doing whatever we can to ensure that this, as an entertainment business, continues to thrive, and we know that a good, winning rugby team is key to that.”
With regards to the Sharks’ playing personnel, particularly in a World Cup year when there will be the threat of players heading abroad after the global showpiece, Smit said he was pleased that the “majority of the squad is signed and sealed for the next two or three years”.
“When it comes to retaining players from a financial point of view, we’re always going to be up against it competing with the yen, euro and pound. So for us it’s about being able to cleverly contract players and avoid that threat of those stronger currencies.
“The business is in a strong position, and those numbers are really important. We do have guys keen to continue with us, the likes of Marcell (Coetzee) and Beast (Mtawarira) have indicated their intention to stay, but there are also obviously some negotiations that are still ongoing with others.”
Personally, when reflecting on his nearly two-year tenure, which has had its inevitable ups and downs, Smit admitted that accepting criticism and public opinion was something that came with the territory.
From criticism related to his participation in the eight-day Cape Epic mountain bike race to accusations of offering “jobs for pal”, Smit said that while he had heard it all, his only focus remained on making the Sharks a successful long-term entity.
“I can’t make excuses and get defensive. It’s a time to focus on the only thing that matters, backing the team and giving them the best chance to get things back on track. I’ve been at the Sharks 18 years, this team is my life, I played here 16 years and now I’ve been CEO for two. This is all I know and half my life has been in this brand, it runs in my blood.”
Original source: Smit wants to get fans excited again