A new era in Westland High School football will kick off this fall. Brian Smith, who will celebrate his 29th birthday Tuesday, was named head coach on July 9. Smith replaces Jeff Jones, who stepped down June 21.
Contributor Frank DiRenna has more.
A new era in Westland High School football will kick off this fall.
Brian Smith, who will celebrate his 29th birthday Tuesday, was named head coach on July 9.
Smith replaces Jeff Jones, who stepped down June 21.
Smith inherits a team that earned the program’s first playoff berth a season ago. The Cougars finished 7-4 overall, falling to Upper Arlington 28-21 in a Division I first-round playoff game.
As Westland prepares for its season opener on Aug. 24 against Upper Arlington, the team met their new coach last Tuesday during a meeting prior to conditioning. Smith’s first task will be to learn names.
“There are plenty of challenges,” Smith said. “Getting a late start as we are, most people think February or March is late to get a head coaching job. We’re going to try and do six, seven weeks worth of work in two weeks. Assembling a staff, teaching them our philosophy and the way we’re going to do things is the biggest challenge right now.”
“If we sit around and think about all the obstacles we have then we’re not working to overcome them. All you have to do is just roll up your sleeves and get to work, and work with what you’ve got, play the hand you’ve been dealt and just get better everyday.”
After serving as an assistant coach at Grandview Heights, Fairbanks and DeSales, Smith is looking forward to his first head coaching assignment.
“I definitely feel fortunate to be in this position,” said Smith, who will be a social studies teacher at the high school. “I know when a guy gets his first heading coaching job it’s typically not at a school of this size and stature.”
It will also be a homecoming for Smith as he is a 1996 graduate of nearby West Jefferson High School. There, he earned first-team recognition at defensive back in the Buckeye Athlete Conference.
“I think Brian is going to be extremely organized and very focused,” Westland Athletic Director Greg Burke said. “He lives minutes away from this high school. I think he will make a connection very quickly with our athletes. He grew up in West Jeff. We’re not all that much dissimilar. I think he’ll very quickly adapt and fit in very well with what we’re doing here at Westland.”
Smith attended Ohio State University where he was a student-assistant during coach Jim Tressel’s first season in 2001.
“That definitely helped from an organizational standpoint and just learning some different terminology and organizing a large scale operation, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s been my actual hands-on high school coaching experience that really developed my philosophy,” Smith said.
Smith’s first high school coaching assignment came at Grandview Heights in 2000 where he served as a running backs coach. There he helped Alex Picazo, who was a third-string running back at the beginning of the season, earn first-team recognition in the Buckeye Athletic Conference. Picazo is a senior wrestler at Ohio State.
Smith then served as wide receivers coach at Fairbanks for two seasons under coach Jeff Pica, guiding Justin Phelps (2001) and Justin Davis (2002) to school record-breaking seasons.
Smith joined the successful DeSales program in 2003. After one season as the head freshman coach, Smith served as varsity special teams coordinator, and secondary, wide receiver and quarterback coach the past three seasons.
The Stallions competed in 13 playoff games during Smith’s tenure, posting a 9-4 record, highlighted by a trip to the Division III state title game in 2005 where they fell to Steubenville 28-7.
“Not having as much experience as a lot of head coaches, I think when you add in all the postseason experience that really has to account for something,” Smith said. “Not just the additional time you’re getting, but the quality of opponent you’re facing week in and week out during the playoffs.”
Senior Mike Jarrell, a defensive back, is one of the key returning players for the Cougars.
“He told us about why he wants to be here and what his goals are here,” Jarrell said. “I’m with him. I think everyone will give him a chance. Everyone likes him. Nobody has anything against him. He’s coming in and it looks like he’s dedicated to our program so far and it looks like he will be here for a while. He does live just down the street, too, so I don’t think he’s going to leave anytime soon. He’s pretty young and he can build his career off this.”
Smith resides in West Jefferson with his wife, Tina, and their children, Carson, 5, and Caitlin, 4.
“I’m not looking at this as a steppingstone or a short stop,” Smith said. “This is somewhere that I would like to make a career. I don’t know where you move on from here. When you look at the total package and the potential we have, I don’t know where you can go that could be better.”