Jones: Hart's appointment as Luton academy director is as 'big a signing' as the Hatters have made in recent years

Hatters new academy director Paul HartHatters new academy director Paul Hart
Hatters new academy director Paul Hart
Luton chief thrilled to have first team coach heading up the club’s academy

The appointment of Paul Hart as Town’s new academy director is ‘as big a signing’ as the Hatters have made in recent years according to boss Nathan Jones.

Following a lengthy playing career of over 550 matches, Hart, a tough central defender by trade, had a spell as Chesterfield manager before moving into youth coaching at Nottingham Forest, then taking charge of Leeds United's academy.

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While at Elland Road, he led the Whites to FA Youth Cup glory twice in 1993 and 1997, producing future Premier League and international stars such as Harry Kewell, Jonathan Woodgate, Ian Harte, Alan Smith, Gary Kelly and Paul Robinson.

Hart then went to Nottingham Forest's academy, winning the U19 title in 1999-2000, bringing the likes of David Prutton, Jermaine Jenas, Andy Reid and Michael Dawson through the ranks.

After spells at Barnsley, Rushden & Diamonds, Portsmouth, QPR, Crystal Palace and Swindon, he then moved to Charlton Athletic in June 2011, spending three years at the Valley as academy director, with Jones joining a year later as U21 professional development coach.

Following another 12 months at Leeds United as academy director and U21s manager, Hart headed to Luton in 2016 to link up with Jones again, returning soon after the Welshman did in May 2020, as speaking about his new role heading up the youth set-up at Kenilworth Road, Jones said: “It’s as big a signing as you can have.

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"Paul Hart has been fundamental in our rise from 2016 to now, he’s been a mentor for me, he’s been a constant support for me.

"I’ve got a wonderful father, I really have, but Paul’s a football father if you like for me.

"He has been amazing for the football club and the environment and the culture we try to attain, but what he excels in, what he’s really been groundbreaking in is youth development.

"The sides he created at Leeds United, at Nottingham Forest, and then at Charlton, where I had the pleasure of working with him, when he changed my football life, he changed my life in terms of seeing things in certain ways.

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"Once I knew the club wanted to make a change then I approached Harty and then I went to the club and said ‘I would like this’ and they were in agreement and if I could persuade him, or we could persuade him as a club to take that role, then it would be a coup.

"We’ve managed to do that, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful coup.

"He’s experienced, he’s an innovative thinker in terms of what he does and he develops footballers, develops human beings.

"It’s as big a signing as this club have had for a long, long time.”

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Hart takes over from Andy Awford who spent almost seven years at the club, as Jones continued: “Andy was part and parcel of the club’s success over a number of years, and I’ll be brutally honest, when I first came in, Andy helped me out a little bit, but we had good people there.

"Wayne Turner had been there previously with the recruitment, Paul Driver was there who was massive impact on producing the likes of James Justin, Frankie Musonda, Tyreeq Bakinson, Freddie Hands, Akin Famewo.

"We had a real, real good group there and then Andy was part of that.

"He came in at that time when they were already in and around it and then nurtured those and was part and parcel helping them to come into the first team.

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“We’ve decided to make a change, it’s someone I wanted and once we knew the club wanted to make a change, I had to push to try and persuade him to take this role as he’s absolutely wonderful at what he does.

"It’s an opportunity to do something different and we thank Andy for his work.

"I had a close relationship with Andy in terms of that, he goes on great terms and probably needed a fresh challenge.

"Whereas now we’re going in a certain way and we’ve been able to attract someone we feel someone who will do a wonderful job for Luton Town.”

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On just how the experienced 68-year-old will help shape the next generation of the Hatters, Jones added: “He’s academy director, so he’ll direct the academy basically.

"He’ll work with Gary (Sweet, chief executive), with Paul Watson (chief operations officer) and with myself.

"He's someone that will want to drive things, someone that has standards that are of the highest ilk and I’m looking forward to seeing the work he can do.

"Paul was probably at the stage where he probably deserved his retirement and would have done that I think, but I just felt this was too good an opportunity.

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"I spoke to Gary and Gary was in full agreement, I spoke to Paul Watson and said if we can persuade him to do it, and he took some persuading as he’s earned his retirement.

"It means relocating and working long, long hours, as he does things at a certain level that outshine all the work that we’ve done.

"I work long hours, but Paul when he’s in his seat, it’s even longer than what we do.

"It’s a lot to ask of him, but he's going to do it and I think it’s as good a signing as we’ve had for a long, long time.”