Photo | Mike Kittrell
After head coaching stops at Robertsdale and Orange Beach, Chase Smith heads to his third Baldwin County gig as the new head football coach and athletics director at Spanish Fort. The move was made official at last Thursday’s Baldwin County Board of Education meeting when his hiring was approved.
It is a return of sorts for Smith, who served as an assistant coach at the school from 2008-11, the early years of the program that played its first season of football in 2006. The Toros are now an established program with four state championships, the first coming in 2010 when Smith was a member of the staff.
Smith makes his return after three seasons at Orange Beach in the same capacity. The new school has played just two seasons of football and hasn’t had the benefit of a senior class yet. Last season, Smith led the Makos to a 9-2 record and the program’s first-ever playoff appearance.
He inherits a program that went 10-2 last year and reached the Class 6A state championship game in 2019 and 2020.
“It’s different but the same,” Smith said of the dynamic of leaving a young program and heading to a still-young program, but one that has established a tradition of success. “You’re building and introducing some things [at a new school]. But planning and preparing and building and developing is the same over both. And that’s what it is — it’s developing kids academically, athletically and character, and it’s continuously building and growing whether there’s tradition or whether [it’s new]. It’s great to have tradition and it’s great to have a foundation, but it’s all about what you do from here and into the future. That’s what I focus on and that’s what drives me every day. It’s continuing to see growth in the student-athletes every day in those areas.”
Smith said of his time at Orange Beach, “I can’t say enough about Orange Beach and how they treated me. It has been a great three years and I’ll always remember it that way.”
Still, the opportunity to take over the Spanish Fort program, a job left vacant when Ben Blackmon accepted the same job at Enterprise High School, was too good to pass up, he noted.
“Spanish Fort, I coached there — I moved to this area in 2007 and I’ve lived here and it’s been home for me for 15 years. Just the support, the community, the culture of the community and the school is just something that I believe in. It’s just home. It’s the right place,” he said.
“I think obviously anywhere you’ve been is going to help you reevaluate — how would I do this? How would I do that? I think it helps with experience and it helps guide you with the decisions you’re going to make. I know it’s a different size [school] … but it’s still athletics, it’s still an athletic program, it’s still people, it’s still building relationships, it’s still finding the best way to inspire and motivate these kids to grow and be the best they can. There’s no doubt everywhere you’ve been and every step you take is going to help you build that philosophy.”
Aside from his time at Orange Beach and Robertsdale (one season, 2018, 2-8 record), Smith was the offensive line and tight ends coach at South Alabama under Joey Jones (2012-17) and he has also been an assistant coach at Greenville and Spain Park.
He said he knew growing up coaching was in his future.
“I played [Shades Valley, Jacksonville state] and I have a love for the game, and really, what it does to you being a student-athlete and playing the game and the mentors I’ve had and the coaches I’ve had at a young age. That impact you have on a student-athlete, and something like that, I could tell how special that was,” he said. “I’m not in a business of selling products, I’m in a business of relationships and motivating and being a part of building student-athletes and who they are. It’s just an unbelievable feeling to see kids grow and better themselves inside and out. I saw that at a young age and I just knew my calling was coaching. In high school, I just knew what I wanted to do.”
Having spent time in Spanish Fort previously is a plus, Smith said.
“I think it helps tremendously,” he said. “Coming here at the birth of a school like that and being a part of the foundation of setting the success and expectations and standards and the blue-collar work ethic that makes Spanish Fort. Knowing and having a great feel for the pulse of this community and the people and the school and the administration and all of the above, I think it helps tremendously being a part of that history and understanding and having the niche there. And being here [in the area] and never leaving, being around the area as it’s grown and being part of that the last 15 years or so, you can’t put into words how that feels or how it helps me understand this place.”
He said he remembers the state championship season of 2010 fondly.
“I talked to somebody earlier, and Spanish Fort, when we got here, was no wins, no state championships, no real big success, no wins at all in football,” he said. “To go from zero wins to kids just trying to figure out who they are and the school and the community trying to figure out who they are and what this is all about, and in four short years winning the state championship. And just seeing those kids. It still seems so surreal.
“I just remember it all to this day. It’s all about seeing the process of the kids’ development and then seeing them at their highest and achieving something that frankly nobody thought those kids would do. … That just adds another element of joy to it and it’s something that I’ll always remember.”
Spanish Fort will play in Class 6A, Region 1 again this season, but the region has changed since Smith was last on the Toros’ staff. With the recent reclassification announcements, Spanish Fort finds itself in a tough, nine-team region with only four playoff spots available. Aside from the Toros, Region 1 includes Baldwin County, Blount, McGill-Toolen, Murphy (down from 7A), Robertsdale, Saraland, St. Paul’s (up from 5A) and Theodore (down from 7A).
“It’s high competition,” Smith said. “As a competitor, it’s something that excites you and motivates you. You’ve got to be ready to go. It’s going to be a physical and intense season. But that’s what you work hard for year-round. You work hard for high-level competition and that’s what it’s going to be.”
He said his priorities as he begins his new job include evaluating everything about the program and developing a schedule. It’s likely spring practice may start a little later than in the past, but that too will be one of the most important evaluations he will undertake.
“It’s just a big evaluation process — planning, getting calendars together, meeting and starting those relationships, letting everybody know who I am and getting everybody involved, building relationships with teachers and administrators and community people and parents and student-athletes and all the above. Then evaluating and preparing and hitting the ground running. There’s a lot of planning and laying things out and getting things ready to go,” Smith said.
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