It is often said progression and growth in sport is a continuous process and if you take a moment to stop, you fall behind.

With the departure of Tony Smith as head coach at Hull FC, their fourth coaching change in as many years, it begs the question as to what has gone wrong at the club who are second bottom of the table with just one win from seven matches this season.

Have they fallen behind the rest of the Betfred Super League? Stagnated? Hired the wrong coaches? Or are the issues bigger than the person put in charge? We take a closer look…

  • Tony Smith leaves Hull FC by mutual consent
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On the surface: Among the cream of the crop?

Under IMG’s new regulations, Hull FC are considered provisionally a Category A club in their illustrative rankings, grouped alongside Leeds Rhinos, Wigan Warriors, St Helens, Catalans Dragons, Warrington Wolves and Hull KR as the best that the sport has to offer.

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Sky Sports’ Jenna Brooks explains how IMG’s new grading system will affect Super League clubs this year

In order to be Category A you have to score more than 15 out of 20 points in certain criteria, Hull FC earning 15.05 points for their viewing figures, attendances, digital media output and fan engagement among other categories.

However, the club that is supposed to be the seventh best in European rugby league currently sit 11th in the Super League table and have made the play-offs only once since 2017.

So, while in many facets they seem to be thriving, there has been a long period of their fans not being rewarded for their loyalty.

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The man at the top: Smith the latest casualty in revolving door

On Thursday, Hull FC parted ways with head coach Smith by mutual consent following a poor start to the Super League season, the former Great Britain boss leaving after just 18 months in charge.

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Tony Smith admitted Hull FC’s first-half performance in the derby defeat to Hull KR was ‘not good enough’

While the Black and Whites have lost six of their seven games so far, Smith had asked for patience to overhaul his side, but another heavy loss – a 56-22 thrashing by the Huddersfield Giants – proved to be Smith’s final match in charge last Saturday.

But if Tony Smith is not given time, then who?

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Rewind to 2020 when Hull FC chair Adam Pearson sensationally announced head coach Lee Radford’s departure live on Sky Sports

Lee Radford guided the club to Challenge Cup victories in 2016 and 2017 but was then sacked in 2020, chair Adam Pearson announcing the decision live on air.

Andy Last followed but then left the club he had been at for 20 years by December 2020 for the assistant coach role at Wakefield Trinity.

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Following Pearson’s announcement of Radford’s dismissal; Brian Carney, Richard Agar and Phil Clarke discussed Hull’s future

So, it was then the turn of Brett Hodgson. After taking over in November 2020, a good start to the season came under Hodgson, bringing a positivity back for Hull FC.

But as the business end of the campaign arrived the same story followed, with the Black and Whites missing out on the play-offs after a big drop off in form plagued crunch time.

He was the third casualty on an ever-growing list, Smith the next of the proven coaches who just could not change how things were at Hull FC.

Who next? More experience or punt on a promising prospect?

So, if Smith, Hodgson, Last and Radford are not the answer, who is?

Currently, assistant coach Simon Grix has been given the role on an interim basis alongside head of emerging talent Francis Cummins and is touted as a very promising up-and-coming coach after winning the 1895 Cup with Halifax Panthers.

But can Hull FC risk punting on a head coach who is unproven at the top level? If they need serious overhaul will they have enough space from the pressure to give him time?

If a coach as proven as Smith cannot be given time, can Grix?

After Grix, you go into outsiders for the job. Brian McDermott could make a return to coaching but could he be given the assurances that he can implement what he needs to?

Then you have NRL assistant coaches Lee Briers and Justin Holbrook. Holbrook is proven on this stage, having won the Super League with St Helens, and Briers was very respected at Wigan as an assistant and now at Brisbane Broncos.

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James Roby lifts the Super League Trophy as St Helens claim their first title in five years

But both of these men offer no more stability than Smith did. All the options walk into the same situation that Smith did 18 months ago.

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Roby salutes departing head coach Justin Holbrook, who guided the Grand Final trophy back to St Helens after a five-year absence

So, it begs the question, is the man at the top not the problem?

Changes needed beyond the coach?

A word that is often thrown around in sport is ‘culture’ and over the past few years, the culture at Hull FC has been called into question by some.

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Highlights of the Super League derby match between Hull KR and Hull FC

Indeed, it is something Hull FC playing legend Gareth Ellis, who was a member of the coaching staff until last year as well, believes has been a longstanding issue.

“What we struggled to eradicate was what I would call the ‘banter’ culture at Hull,” Ellis wrote in his book.

“It had existed for as long as I had been at the club, not just taking the mickey out of each other but, more worryingly, out of the values you pretend to uphold.

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Highlights of Hull FC’s clash with Leigh Leopards in the Betfred Super League

“At the top clubs, they know when the banter ends and the serious stuff begins.”

For his part, Hull FC chair Pearson underlined the need to make changes at the club beyond just parting ways with Smith and his assistant coach Stanley Gene.

“It is disappointing to have had to come to this decision, but it is one I feel is right at this time,” Pearson said.

“There will be further restructuring of the club in the coming days and we will update further in due course.”

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Hull KR’s Matt Parcell is shown a yellow for an infringement on Ligi Sao, before the FC man is shown a red for retaliation

When culture translates to results: The stats do the talking

Inability to focus on the “serious stuff” has translated into the stats too, and not just in 2024.

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Highlights of the Catalans Dragons against the Hull FC in the Betfred Super League

This season, Hull FC sit bottom with just nine try assists, third for missed tackles with 251, and second bottom for metres made, having made 7,165 – Warrington Wolves on top with 9,625 metres.

They have also made life hard for themselves defensively, making the second most tackles behind London Broncos with 2,192 and receiving the most red and yellow cards across the competition.

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Highlights of Warrington Wolves’ clash with Hull FC in the Betfred Super League

When you look back over the last few seasons, the same problems arise time and time again.

Back in 2019, they were fourth bottom for missed tackles, missing 1,059. In 2022, they were third from bottom for metres made, making 31,898. In 2023, they had the most errors of any team in the league with 344.

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A debut to forget for Hull FC’s Franklin Pele as he’s sent off for a swinging arm which sparked a wild brawl between the two sets of players

The leaders can change, the staff can change, they can talk of how they are going to challenge at the top one day soon, but until Hull FC figure out what their problem is, they are going to consistently be the Grade A club that are fighting at the bottom.

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