PELL CITY – After 33 years as a coach, teacher and administrator at Springville High School, Jeff Smith has accepted the opportunity to be the varsity boys’ basketball coach at Pell City High School.
Smith started at Springville High School when he was 25 years old. Today, the 58-year-old seasoned veteran dubbed the ‘dean of St. Clair County basketball coaches’ brings an overall record of 556-315 with him to Pell City.
The Pell City Board of Education approved Smith’s hire a little over two months ago.
Smith said he grew up coaching at Springville and will forever be indebted to all the wonderful people of Springville he has met through the years.
“We raised our family in Springville,” Smith said. “All three of our children attended the schools in Springville and graduated high school there. They all still live in Springville today. Springville folks are my family, and they always will be as far as I’m concerned.”
Smith said the Springville community has watched him grow as a coach – the good, the bad and the ugly.
Through the years, if basketball teams were in pursuit of a county crown, nine times out of 10, it meant going through the Tigers.
Smith led the Tigers to 15 county championships and was in the finals another six or seven years.
“In my first year as coach, we advanced to the championship game at Odenville but lost to Ragland,” Smith said. “Ragland had some great teams back then and were coached by Joe Carpenter, Danny Ford and now Andy Eden.”
Love of the game
When asked what it was that he would be bringing with him to Pell City that he had at Springville, Smith said it was simply the love of the game.
“I still enjoy coaching,” he said. “I love practice, enjoy getting better and enjoy seeing the kids get better. That keeps me motivated at a high level. It’s a lot of fun and very rewarding to watch a group of young men come together with no excuses or blaming – just working together to be as good as they can possibly be. That motivates me.”
What he has seen thus far
In the first couple of months under Smith, the Panthers have played 20 offseason games at different locations.
“There appears to be a lot of inexperience, but there is so much potential in each of them,” Smith said. “That is due to how positive they are and how accepting they have been of the changes with a new head coach and new personalities with a new coaching staff. From what I have seen, they have accepted and are buying into what we are attempting to do. From the freshman team to the varsity team, they really support each other. That’s not always the case, but when you see it, it’s a special thing. It’s very enjoyable to be around.”
County tournament aspirations
When asked if he would like to see his Panthers participate in the county tournament, Smith, of course, said, ‘yes.’
“I brought it up to Wayne Lee, the athletic director at Pell City, and I spoke with the Panther varsity girl’s basketball coach,” Smith said. “Lee petitioned St. Clair County athletic director Wayne Trucks just to see if Pell City could be part of the St. Clair County Basketball Tournament from our jr. high teams all the way up. It’s a special thing to be in tournaments. It doesn’t matter if it's volleyball, softball or any sport.”
Currently, the Victory Christian Lions participate in the county basketball tournament. Smith said he was at the coaches meeting at the Moody High School cafeteria as part of the St. Clair County coaches when Trucks presented an official request to allow Victory Christian to participate in the county tournament.
“Being the spokesman (or coach with the most tenure), I told them it did not matter to me,” Smith said. “But I did tell them if we were going to allow Victory Christian in, who is not part of the St. Clair County School System, then we will have to allow Pell City in when they make an official request. You can’t allow one school to come in and not another. That’s hypocritical. And I really don’t care. They can both go in as far as I’m concerned. We were already playing them, so what’s the difference.”
Smith said Lee sent the official request for the Panthers to participate in the county tournament.
“It got shot down,” Smith said. “We will try again next year. I don’t know if it’s because I am at Pell City now, but I do know we will not participate in the county tournament next January.”
Pell City and Springville will play each other this season because they are in the same area along with Oxford and Southside. Smith said Oxford is the frontrunner in the area.
“Honestly, playing Pell City when I was at Springville was not a rivalry to us,” Smith said. “I found out that playing Springville was a big rivalry for Pell City. It will be emotional playing against former players without a doubt.”
Smith has had a saying through the years that he preaches to each team he has ever coached.
“It’s not who you play or where you play – the most important thing is how you play,” Smith said. “All we can control is how we play. We want to do that to the best of our ability.”
People of Springville
“The folks of Springville are a ‘class act,’” Smith said. “They are my extended family, and that is not going to change. They have been very supportive and understood why I took this opportunity.”
How it played out
Smith said this situation wasn’t something he decided on overnight and then just did it.
“After the door got slammed in my face to be the principal at Springville High School (Smith has been assistant principal there 20 years), it was very hard emotionally to deal with that,” he said. “Because, I wanted to be the principal at my school. When that happened, and after speaking openly at a St. Clair County Board of Education meeting, that was very therapeutic for me to get it off my chest on how I felt about it.”
Smith said he was blown away by the amount of support he received throughout the county.
“It was like no one had a clue what had happened,” Smith said. “We then had our basketball season and went 25-7 in our first year in Class 6A. We advanced to the sub-regionals. Having such a great season was very therapeutic for me.”
Smith said after the season was over, he had time to think. He knew if he couldn’t be the principal at Springville, why stay as assistant principal.
“Where one door shuts, other doors started opening,” Smith said. “I’m definitely where I’m supposed to be, believe it or not.”
Smith and his wife Donna have been married 36 years. They have three children, Lesley Byrd, along with Brad and Charlie Smith. All three played sports and his two sons played basketball for him.
One of Smith’s biggest supporters is his 91-year-old mother Barbara, who by the way, is a huge Kentucky Wildcat basketball fan.
“We have had a lot of parents and grandparents come watch these kids play basketball this summer,” Smith said. “We’ve also had a lot of Pell City coaches come and watch these kids play. They are very supportive.”
Smith said his mom and wife came to a game one day and his mom had on her black and white.
“It was very unusual not seeing her in her purple and white or her Kentucky blue,” Smith said. “She is pretty awesome.”