MERCERVILLE, Ohio — From one band of Rebels to another.
That’s because Mike Smith, after six seasons as head football coach at Tolsia High School in West Virginia, has been officially hired as the new head football coach at South Gallia.
Interestingly, or coincidentally, both schools’ mascot is the “Rebels”.
Smith, who began his coaching duties this past week with South Gallia, replaces Jason Peck —who resigned on May 9 after seven seasons as head coach, part of 17 years of involvement overall.
Smith has actually over two decades of football coaching experience which, prior to his hiring at SGHS, was basically book-ended by two stints at Tolsia.
The second one, though, was his head coaching tenure, which spanned from 2011 — until he became a victim of budget cuts within the Wayne County Schools (W. Va.) district.
Smith said he was one of 90 district employees which lost their jobs.
“I wasn’t really looking for a position at all, but I got caught up in all the layoffs in Wayne County, so that’s how I ended up job hunting to begin with. I found out about the South Gallia job through Coach (Melvin) Cunningham at Fairland. He and I are good friends, and our sons played AAU basketball and stuff like that together,” said Smith, in an interview on Tuesday. “He knew I was looking for a job all of the sudden, and he saw the South Gallia position was open.”
With both Smith and the Gallia County Local School District moving quickly to fill the vacancy, Smith applied and interviewed —and ultimately accepted the position when offered.
Smith said he interviewed on May 19, and officially was hired by Gallia County Local Schools three days later.
“It happened overnight almost,” he said. “Now we’re ready to get started.”
Unfortunately for the timing, it isn’t the most ideal for Smith and South Gallia, but the Rebels are already underway with their summer workout program.
Smith also explained that he is still formulating his coaching staff, as assistant Paul Polcyn is confirmed to be a holdover from Peck’s previous group.
He said Tuesday was actually his first full day of “really getting any interaction or anything” with prospective players for the upcoming season.
There should be plenty of young Rebels returning, as only seven seniors graduated from last season’s 3-7 squad.
“We’re already behind by about four or five weeks, but we’re full-speed ahead,” said Smith. “We’re not going to get completely caught up, because these kids are going to learn all new everything. From the verbiage to the alignments and assignments. It’s not new for me, but it’s all new for them. Therefore, it’s going to take them a little bit more time to pick up on things and find out the way we do things. I do think they’ll catch on defensively a lot quicker than they will offensively. Hopefully, with these kids coming back and getting a lot of experience last year, it won’t be a big transition for them.”
Smith’s football coaching background extends back to 1990, when he served as an assistant at Gilbert — before joining Tolsia’s staff as its defensive coordinator for five years from 1995 to 1999.
After seven seasons in which he spent working within the private sector, the Kermit (W. Va.) High School graduate has returned to coaching for the past decade —having spent two years (2007 and 2008) as head coach at Tug Valley prior to two seasons (2009 and 2010) as offensive coordinator at Pike County Central in Kentucky.
Two years ago, he guided Tolsia to a 12-2 overall record — and the Class AA state championship tilt against Bridgeport.
When asked about specific football philosophies, Smith said “we’ll base everything defensively out of a 4-3 (front), and we’ll play some 3-4, just depending on our competition and our personnel.”
“Everybody is in this spread stuff now, and teams like to throw bubble screens and things. When we play teams like that, we’ll play a lot of three-man fronts. If not, we’ll most of the time be in a 4-3,” said the coach.
Smith also plans to alter the Rebels’ offense, which —for last season —featured foot-to-foot line splits with a run-oriented double-wing double-tight end formation.
“You probably won’t see the double-wing double-tight this year,” he said. “We’ll be in a lot of 3-1, 2-1, 2-2, and not only will we be in those formations in the pistol or the shotgun, but we’ll also be in them under center. We’ll go from one back to two backs, we want to be diverse. But we still have to find out what our capabilities are. We’ll make it as simple as we can make it, and we’ll probably have to be very vanilla going into the season. We’ve got less than three months, but that’s just not enough time.”
Especially against the Rebels’ tough Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division schedule, which featured three Division VII, Region 27 playoff clubs (Waterford, Trimble and Southern) — and another which was ninth in that region (Miller).
“I know absolutely nothing at this point about their (Rebels) league other than the teams that are in it,” said Smith.
The Rebels open the season on Aug. 25 —when they host Sciotoville East, which went undefeated in the regular season and captured the Southern Ohio Conference Division I championship.
Indeed, the season is rapidly approaching — as Smith said he is excited about being at South Gallia and taking over the reigns.
“It’s always good coming into a situation where you have some returning players. Hopefully, we can build some things here. When I took over Tolsia (in 2011), we started 0-10. But the last three years we went 6-4, then were in the (West Virginia Class AA) state finals and finished 12-2, then last year were in the (Class AA) state quarterfinals,” he said. “This program (South Gallia) has had some success in the past, so hopefully we can make some more memories and have some more fun here.”
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106