AUBURN — Steve Smith never stops coaching, even if the moment requires light-hearted coaching.
Having just clinched his third state title in 11 seasons as Piedmont’s head football coach, Smith put senior Austin Brazier in charge of fetching the team’s newest “blue map” trophy following Thursday’s postgame news conference.
Wouldn’t you know the player with the most jobs on this team forgot his last job?
Smith ribbed Brazier about it as the two exited the media room following Piedmont’s 22-12 victory over Mobile Christian, but let’s face it. This might have been the one time in 11 years Smith was wrong.
It’s most fitting that Smith stood there, holding the trophy. Most fitting, indeed.
It’s time to have that discussion … the one that comes when winning becomes an era.
It’s time to talk about Piedmont’s Steve Smith era and its place among the greatest eras other Calhoun County-based high school programs have enjoyed.
It’s time to talk about those three state titles in 11 years, including back-to-back titles this season and last. Sound familiar?
Smith-led Piedmont, which hadn’t won a state title in football before he arrived in 2006, has entered Oxford-Robert Herring territory.
The Bulldogs have crossed into high cotton like that enjoyed by Alexandria, when Lou Scales and Larry Ginn combined to win three state titles from 1985-97.
Piedmont’s Bulldogs have passed Anniston’s Bulldogs, circa Berry Halladay/Rodney Bivens from the late 1980s to mid-1990s.
When it comes to state titles, there’s never been a better era enjoyed by any program from Calhoun County than Piedmont’s current run. Only one, one-coach era matches it.
Piedmont under Smith now has state titles in 2009, 2015 and 2016 as the crown jewels of a span with five region titles and 123 victories, including 15 this season.
Oxford under Herring won state back-to-back state titles in 1988 and 1989 and another in 1993. Those Yellow Jackets won eight region titles and 117 games over 14 years.
Dig all one wants into the numbers, and the comparison still comes up direct.
Wanna talk Alexandria’s run from Scales’ 1985 state title to the last of Ginn’s two, in 1997? OK, the Valley Cubs won 114 games and six region titles.
Alexandria, Oxford and Piedmont are the three Calhoun County-based programs that have three state football titles in the playoff era. They came in bunches for each school.
If we must break the tie, then consider this … Piedmont’s run has come without a losing season.
Go ahead and hold that trophy, Steve Smith. You’ve earned the smile that came with the question.
“I’m just proud for Piedmont, being able to hold its place in Calhoun County with those people that have won multiple state championships,” he said. “There’s so much great football in our county, so many great teams in this county in the past, when you look back at those Alexandria days, Anniston’s championship teams, the Ohatchee team in the mid-’70s (1977) and all those great Oxford teams.
“To be able to do some things to put Piedmont in those same conversations with the great programs in the history of Calhoun County is something special.”
Piedmont’s current run seems far from over. The Bulldogs will lose top seniors like “Mr. Football” hopeful Taylor Hayes, but they came back for an unbeaten run this season after losing the likes of Darnell Jackson and Bayley Blanchard.
The backfield combination of Chase Childers and Christian Cantrell said farewell after that 2009 title game, but Smith keeps producing them.
“That man, he’s the best coach in the state, by far,” said Hayes, who’s been around the program since he was a manager in fourth grade. “He should be coaching in college, but I guess he’s just close to Piedmont.”
Piedmont folks knew that’s what they got with Smith, who got the first call when the school system went looking for a varsity head coach in 2006.
“When we hired him, we had two or three state championships coming with the athletes we had coming, and we needed the right guy to guide us through that,” said Mike Hayes, Taylor’s dad, a former Piedmont head coach and assistant superintendent when Smith was hired. “It turned out to be a great hire on our part.
“He’s a guy who gets to a place and stays, and really, we could have two or three more of these (state titles).”