Heading to T-town
Smith no longer HHS coach, will take position at Northridge High
Nick Johnston, Hartselle Enquirer
Let the search begin.
Mike Smith, former head football coach at Hartselle High School, has accepted the head coaching position at Northridge High School in Tuscaloosa.
Smith is coming off his best season at Hartselle, leading the Tigers to the Class 5A Semifinals.
His record at Hartselle stands at 36-30.
"I've had pretty good success here," Smith said. "My best memory here will be the relationships I built through these good kids. Winning and losing is what it's all about, but building young men is most important."
Now, the search for a new head coach is underway.
"We're looking at using various committees in order to help us find the right coach," principal and athletic director Jerry Reeves said. "We have a good product here at Hartselle, and we're excited about the possibilities out there for a new head coach."
Neither Reeves nor Superintendent Dr. Lee Hartsell would comment on possible replacements.
"We will take applications until the first of April," Hartsell said.
See SMITH, B-3
As of now, Hartsell said he has received "a few" resumes.
"I can't help but be sad he's leaving," Reeves said. "I'm excited for him … I fully support him 100 percent, but I hate to see him go."
About Smith's time in Hartselle…
Everything was not all roses when Smith arrived at Hartselle. There were problems – problems needing fixed if he wanted to succeed at the helm.
"No. 1, they were used to doing certain things one way for a long period of time," Smith said. "And No. 2, we weren't getting a lot of athletes to participate in football."
According to Smith, the schools best athletes were involved in sports other than football – Smith found a solution.
"We made an emphasis on our Junior High programs," he said. "We broke them up into different grades, and that gave them more playing opportunities."
Prior to Smith's arrival, the seventh and eighth graders played with the freshmen in high school on the ninth grade team. Many of the junior high athletes would get discouraged, and quit playing football because of lack of playing time.
By breaking up the different grades, according to Smith, it kept players interested.
"That's really paid off," Smith said. "They were getting discouraged before … no question about it."
Now, Smith is convinced Hartselle's football program is in good shape for the next head coach.
"The program is in good shape," he said. "We got a good nucleus of players coming back and good a Junior High team. The facilities have been upgraded and the equipment has been upgraded. We have no bills, everything is paid for and there is money in the bank."
Smith's career prior to Hartselle…
Ironically, Smith began his coaching career in Tuscaloosa at Hillcrest High. He was an assistant coach there for one year before moving on to Greensboro High.
At Greensboro, Smith was defensive coordinator for two years and took control as head coach for one year.
He then coached for Demopolis High for three years as the defensive coordinator before accepting the head coaching position at Gordo High.
He spent three more years in Gordo before making his way to Hartselle.
Smith's career record as a head coach is 74-42.
What he expects at Northridge…
Northridge High School is a new school, but with old students.
Central High (Tuscaloosa) among others is splitting, as three new high schools have been built in the Tuscaloosa area. Smith will have an assortment of athletes from freshman to seniors for his first year.
"It's exciting," Smith said. "I'll be at a new school with new facilities and get to buy the first of everything, right down to the first Band-Aid. I get to do it the way I want to."
Northridge has built an athletic facility costing more than $6 million.
"I don't know if that means a lot to anybody else, but it means a lot to me," Smith said. "It means there is a commitment there."
Northridge will be made up of 900+ students in its first year and is expected to grow to 1,200 students in the next four to five years.
The school will be a part of Class 6A at that time, but as for next year, Northridge will not be able to compete for championships.
The state is in-between contract years, which means Northridge will face teams from Mississippi, Florida and the upper echelon teams in Alabama who cannot fill their schedules because no team will play them.
"We'll probably get out eyeballs beat out a few times, but that's all right," Smith said. "I'm going to throw them in there with the best. If you are going to be the best, you got to play some of the best folks."
Rumors that Smith would be taking over at Northridge have circulated since the beginning of this year, but according to Smith, he never gave it a thought.
"At a district meeting in January, a coach brought that up to me," Smith said. "I said 'What are you talking about? …. You're the second guy that has told me that.' I had not officially inquired for it or even checked into it.
"Somebody ties you to a rumor every year, so I just dispelled it."
The rumor came to pass, as two weeks ago the Tuscaloosa City Board of Education contacted Smith for an interview.
"It's just been a whirlwind for two weeks," Smith said.
Family played a big part…
"This was the only unique situation that could happen for me to leave," Smith said. "First of all, my family and my wife's family are there. Second of all, our friends are there and our hobbies are there (hunting and fishing). Third of all, it's a system rich in football tradition. They can meet the demands a football coach could want."
When it was a decision time, Smith looked to his wife, Susana, for the answer.
"I basically left it (the decision) in her court," he said. "I asked her 'Do you want to move … Yes or no? I just seen a big grin on her face."
The couple has two children, Hunter and Austin.
Smith made a strong recommendation for his replacement – Larry Peck.
Peck, the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for the Tigers, has been with Hartselle for 17 years.
Yet, he turned it down.
"I just think he's a great guy and a great coach," Smith said. "I would love to have him down there with me."
Peck would likely have been the frontrunner for the job, but according to Hartsell, the tedious task of finding a replacement begins.
"There will be a vote taken on April 21. We're going to find the best possible candidate for this school," Hartsell said.