Jack Ross reflects on Sunderland tenure, Netflix challenges and a new start at Hibernian
On the evening Jack Ross left Sunderland, James Fowler insisted that it would not be long before he was back in work.
So it proved, Ross sitting down with the Scottish press on Monday to discuss his arrival at Hibernian just over six weeks since leaving Sunderland.
He takes over a side struggling in the table but with the clear potential to compete towards the top, both in the short and long term.
It has been a rapid turnaround for the former Sunderland boss, but the brief pause has allowed some time for reflection.
There are moments in games and selections he might have changed in hindsight, but when asked his biggest lesson from 18 often exhilarating and always exhausting months on Wearside, the key reflection is a manager better equipped at dealing with the ‘intensity’ of managing a big club.
“It is very difficult to pinpoint one [lesson],” Ross said.
“When you reflect when you leave a club it is natural as a manager there are specifics I could look back on like picking one player over another or playing a certain team on a certain occasion.
“These are all specific to games and probably played over in my own head. Probably the key learning aspect was dealing with the responsibility and pressure of managing a club with big expectations.
“I know I am coming into a club with big expectations here but I think to get used to dealing with that every day was the biggest aspect. In truth, you don’t know what that’s like until you are living it every day.
“People can tell you what it is like and you can go on courses and speak to people but until you are walking in those shoes you don’t realise. To come through that and survive – well, I ultimately lost by job, but to survive in terms of being able to do it will stand me in good stead.
“It was relentless and intense. We had 61 games last season and travelled a lot so that intense nature of it was significantly different than what I was used to before. But it’s impossible not to enjoy leading teams out at Wembley or being in charge of a team that’s getting 30,000 fans every other week.
“There were ups and downs, highs and lows, but taking the opportunity to be Sunderland manager is something I will never regret. It was a terrific all-round experience.
“That is one of the key things I had to reflect on.
“Having left 18 months ago or so, am I coming back a better manager? I feel that as a coach and as a manager. I have to prove it by winning games back in Scotland. It’s such a huge, huge job down there, I never imagined how big it was.
“Dealing with the challenges and taking on the responsibility every single day means I have had to evolve and develop in a lot of different ways as well. I feel I am better equipped to come in a job like this because this is a very big job as well. The experiences of the last seventeen months or so will help me cope with the challenges here as well.”
Those ups and downs were filmed at close proximity by the ‘Sunderland ‘Til I Die’ team, with a second series due to be aired in the new year.
It was another challenge for the Black Cats boss, uncomfortable throughout the process.
“When I first took the job, it wasn’t a certainty that there would be a second series,” he said.
“I said ‘no’, the board said ‘yes’. So the board won. So, to try to convince me to help them with it, they showed me little bits of the first series. And for some reason they decided to show me the clip where Chris [Coleman] comes out the stadium after being relegated. I’ve no idea why they showed me that. The problem is: I had started the job already. If they had showed me that before I got it, I don’t know if I would have taken it!
“I hadn’t even taken charge of a game at that point and was thinking: ‘Oh aye, this will be good’.
“There was a continual desire for dressing room access or tactical meeting access. That’s why I was always firm in my stance that they wouldn’t get it. Not because I thought I would change, but the perception from the players might. The message gets diluted. If there’s a camera crew present then maybe the players wonder if you believe what you are saying or whether it’s for effect.
“I was very consistent in the access I allowed, and keeping the nuts and bolts of my work private,” he added.
“I’ve managed to see some of the episodes of the next series. When you make these documentaries there is probably a narrative before it is even produced. It’s very well done - just like the first series, it’s very well produced. It’s probably less enjoyable when you are in it than when you are just watching!
“That’s a different experience, that season of having a camera crew omnipresent and everything that goes with that. That’s done now and I’ve probably become less paranoid about that. If people judge me from how I appear on a TV programme rather than how I am first-hand, then so be it.
“I’m sure everyone would be the same. A lot of people don’t like watching themselves back or listening to themselves. Well, if you extend that further and be part of something which is edited and put together, you can be unsure about what the storyline will be and how you will come across.
“You can watch it and pick out little things, saying ‘am I happy with that?’ But, truth be told, you make peace with it. I’m sure people will enjoy watching it but it’s not something I’d love to be part of again. It didn’t give me a thirst for reality television, that’s for sure!
“The people involved in the production crew were very nice, it was just about explaining to them at times that it was nothing personal. It was about me trying to get on with my job as best as I could, while they were trying to make a television programme.”
Before speaking to the Scottish press, Ross reflected on his time at Sunderland in an interview with The Times.
There is an irony that his departure preceded news of investment in the club’s recruitment department, Phil Parkinson likely to enjoy the benefits of changes and improvement to club structure's that Ross long lobbied for to no avail, the manager never working with a defined budget on Wearside.
“I had a desire to put a more structured plan in place, more than just the budget,” he said.
“The club has come out recently and said they will invest in recruitment, and I had all the conversations and we never managed to get there. For the club to move, it needs to do that.”
That, though, is now in the past.
He arrives at a club he feels is a ‘good fit’, and tellingly, one he feels has the environment needed for success.
“You don’t know how long you might be out of football management for and, when you leave a job not through your own choice, the next choice you make is important,” he said.
“I’ve always worked in the premise of being comfortable with the people you work with, and for. I felt that from the first discussions I had with Leeann [Dempster], Graeme [Mathie] and Ron [Gordon].
“It progressed more formally and it was a rigorous process. It’s not easy to get the Hibs job! But there are a lot of things that are a good fit for me. Now I need to prove that by winning games regularly. I feel fortunate to get such a good opportunity so quickly.”