When Alan Stubbs and David Gray shook hands on a two-year deal in 2014, they could scarcely have imagined the thread it would weave through Hibernian history.

It was Stubbs' first meaningful move upon taking his first senior managerial post almost 10 years ago, and, truth be told, a fairly low-key one. Gray had just spent a half-season at Burton Albion in England's fourth tier, a few months after his manager at Stevenage, Graham Westley, had declared it 'better for all' if he left, so unfavourable were his prospects of playing time in League One.

His was a career in need of a new narrative. He would probably have settled for a little less than the immortality he found at Easter Road.

Stubbs' first signing as Hibs manager went on, in the most dramatic fashion possible, to score the goal that ended Hibs' 114-year wait to lift the Scottish Cup. Almost a decade later, he now steps into the dugout, following directly in the footsteps of the man whose decision to sign him kickstarted the journey towards a moment Hibs fans will remember forever.

At the time, though, Stubbs was just after a no-nonsense defender he could rely on.

"David had a good background, a good pedigree, and that stuck out to me," he said. "And from what I saw in footage of him, he was what I was looking for. The next bit, from the club’s perspective, is always really good to know – he was from Edinburgh and wanted to get closer to home. So, if he settles down closer to family, you know you’re going to have a happy player.

“When you have a happy player off the pitch, it translates to a happy player on the pitch. Straight away, David’s attitude was great in training. I could see how he approached things, he was a bit no-nonsense in terms of tackling. In training, people knew they were going to have a tough time against him.

“That shone through quickly, and then you see his leadership qualities from being with him daily. You knew he was captain material, it was in his DNA. You also see the winners in people, people who are not prepared to take second best, who are prepared to say something to others in the team because standards are not being upheld."

READ MORE: Hibs reveal retained squad list for 2024/25 season

Gray's journey to now becoming Hibs head coach is as satisfying a football tale as there ever will be. After four separate stints as caretaker manager, including two last season alone, the club have gone all-in on the 36-year-old to halt a seemingly endless cycle of hiring and firing. 'Stability' was the word used by sporting director Malky Mackay in the official announcement of Gray's appointment, and it's something Hibs need just as badly now as they back then.

The parallels between Gray and Stubbs' ascension to the role are quite striking. Neither had managed at senior level, both took charge with Hibs at a low ebb (albeit things are not quite as dire in 2024 as they were in 2014), the playing squad is in need of major surgery, and significant changes behind the scenes.

Stubbs inherited a team that had suffered a disastrous and unexpected relegation to the Championship, after which 15 players departed. Off the pitch, Leeann Demspter had recently arrived as chief-executive, and there was a new head of football operations in George Craig. Similarly, Gray takes over a side from which Hibs fans have felt painfully disconnected. Many are expected to leave this summer, and a new football structure led by Mackay - and with the influence of Black Knight FC - is beginning to take shape. Couple all this upheaval with the rate Hibs have burned through bosses in recent years, and it feels like a daunting prospect for a first-time manager.

"A lot of managers who have been in a job might turn to him and say: ‘what on Earth are you doing?’" said Stubbs. "But, first and foremost, he’s maybe got a little bit of a headstart – he’s been a caretaker on a number of occasions, which will have helped him understand the pressures, from a training day to a match day.

“He will have learnt so much from those short-term experiences. The turnaround at a club the size of Hibs is far too great. You can’t keep changing the manager. At some point, you’ve got to stick behind a manager and, as a club, buy into him and how they want the club to progress. Otherwise, you’re in a vicious circle of different managers with different ideas, and the turnover of players becomes too great. Not every manager is going to like the same group of players.

“David will be exactly the same. He will have a nucleus of players he will like, and there will be players in his head he would probably like to move on, to then bring his own type in."

Stubbs believes Gray's exalted standing amongst the Hibs support will see him backed more than, perhaps, anyone else. But he knows it won't remove the pressure to turn results around, and quickly.

“I’ve got a lot of time for David, he’s a great guy," said Stubbs. "He was the ultimate professional along with a few others when I was there. It couldn’t have been given to a nicer guy, but that won’t make him successful. He needs the fans support, and he will get that, more than most others who could’ve gone, because of what he’s done for the club.

“But that will only get him so far, because then it’s all about results. Like any other manager, he’s in a results driven business now. And he has to get them quickly and with consistency to give himself time to model this team in his own mould."

READ MORE: Why David Gray must get backing to succeed as Hibs head coach - fan view

One of the most intriguing aspects of appointments like Gray's is the shift in dynamic between coach and playing staff. His previous role in the backroom team likely have put him closer to the players on a day-to-day basis, relationships will have been formed and, in Joe Newell and Martin Boyle, there's even an ex team-mate still in the dressing room. But in taking the top job, Stubbs believes Gray will have to show an 'edge' and handle that altered dynamic, but is confident has he the nous to do so.

“That example now is going to come from David," said Stubbs. "Those players will be looking at every move he makes. Players are very quick to jump on anything a manager does wrong. David will be very good at putting his arm round players, listening to them. He won’t have any problems leaving players out, I think he’s got a ruthless side, which he will need.

“He’s got to make that big change from being a friend of the players to now being their boss. I think he’ll do that no problem. Where before he could maybe have a laugh with the players, he now needs to have that edge to him, where sometimes he’ll have to keep a distance. He’s a manager now, and it’s different, he will be having different conversations."

And can that be a particularly difficult balance to strike?

"It can be, it depends on the conversation," Stubbs added. "One thing I’d always say is that for me, my door was always open, no matter what it was. My phone was on 24 hours a day, and with some of the characters I had in there that maybe wasn’t a good thing!

“But I’ve got to admit, more often than not the phone didn’t ring, which was a good thing. But that was the way I wanted to manage; I wanted them to be able to come to me with any problem they had and speak to me about anything, and if I could help, I would, because I’d been there myself.

“David’s been there, too, he’s been a player and knows. Now he has to be able to have a different outlook on things, giving answers from a manager’s point of view, not a player’s. That will test him, but I’m sure he’ll cope with it, no problem."

There's a rueful smile creeping across Stubbs' face - one that says 'I've been there' - as he declares Gray is about to find himself being 'pulled pillar to post' by every person and problem he can imagine, followed by those he can't. But with Mackay leading the football operation - including the recruitment process - Stubbs is confident he will be adequately supported. He cites Dempster, Craig and, a short while later, former head of recruitment Graeme Mathie being invaluable in allowing him to focus on the job in hand - coaching the team. He envisages Mackay providing similar support for Gray.

"Malky will be huge for David," said Stubbs. "I know Malky personally, and I know what he can offer. I’m not just speaking as a friend of Malky, but I think he can be for David what Leeann and George were for me – someone to bounce ideas off, he’s got experience in management.

“Knowing Malky, he is one that if David needed someone to speak to – coaching, issues with players – he would be someone to bounce off and get good advice from. These are things, realistically, David will need someone to take care of so he can focus on coaching, and managing the players from a Monday to a Saturday.

“Let Malky take care of the rest. As a manager, David will feel as though he’s being pulled from pillar to post. The manager is there to answer to everybody, not just the players – the staff, the fans, the press, the board."

Gray has taken a well-earned rest with his family in Florida before he starts work, and it might just be the last chance he gets to switch off from football, if he even did so, for quite some time. Having taken this path himself from a position, I ask Stubbs for the one piece of advice he would give to Gray.

“Be lucky," he replied. "Whether you’re a player or manager, you need a bit of luck. The importance of that can be overshadowed. One of the best managers in British football, Sir Alex Ferguson, he had a bit of luck with Mark Robins scoring that goal in the last minute [against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup], otherwise, he’s getting the sack.

“Now he’s the most successful British manager we’ve seen, so there’s that luck that you need. David will have to be diligent, put the hours, and bring in the right players. Recruitment is key, his management style is key, but it all comes down to getting results, and having a bit of luck. Sometimes, it’s better to be a lucky manager than a good manager.”

Has he already passed that message on to Gray himself?

"I text him this morning to say good luck and he’s not replied yet, which I am not happy about!” Stubbs laughed.



Hibs fans can dream that Gray can be both. For the man in the role he's now inherited, it's probably overdue.

Part two of our interview with Alan Stubbs - in which he reflects on 10 years since getting the Hibs job and much more - will be out on www.hibsobserver.co.uk later this week.