• John Macon Gillespie

SES Coach Spotlight: Q&A with Newton high HC Ryan Smith

In his first season as a head coach, at the ripe age of 34, Ryan Smith led the Newton Tigers a 7-4 finish. It marked a spectacular five-game turnaround in wins from a season ago. In fact, it was the first sign of light at the end of the tunnel for the program in some time.

Smith, a native of Noxapater, came to Newton from Oak Grove, where he has been the offensive coordinator for just a year. His prior stops also include Newton County, Irving Nimitz(TX), Palmer(TX) and even his alma mater, Noxapater, for a pair of seasons. He played quarterback at Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas.

Recently coach Smith was kind enough to speak with SES Mississippi. Here is that interview in Q&A form.

Q: What was your connection to football prior to your organized playing days? What about your experiences growing up with the game?

Smith: “Had zero connections to football. My family was more focused livestock and farming. I have two uncles, Ted and Tony Hartness, who loved football and introduced me to it at an early age. I started playing in seventh grade and knew very quickly that in some way, shape or form, I would be apart of the game my entire life. Just knew it was what God had called me to do.”

Q: Were you always a quarterback?

Smith: “From day one. My entire career, high school and college, I played quarterback.”

Q: What about your playing experience at the position prepared you to be a coach and how has it shaped your coaching philosophy?

Smith: “I played in a veer-based, two-tight offense in high school. I went 23-5 as a starter and played for a state title in 1999. In college I was a four-year starter, but in a spread-based system that was pass first. I currently hold all the passing records in school history. I have molded my philosophies on offense based on those experiences. I love to throw the football, but at the center of my philosophy is being able to adapt to the players I have. To sum it up in one word...options. I want options; run-pass options, veer out of the gun, etc.”

Q: Having grown up in Mississippi, who were some guys you loved to watch or root for?

Smith: “Obviously Favre is the guy, but I was huge fan of Dan Marinow growing up. Always appreciated what the Manning family accomplished.”

Q: What was it like in the initial moments you knew you were going to be a head coach?

Smith: “I felt a sense of accomplishment. I had been wanting to be a head coach since 2005, which was my first fall as a coach. I was very thankful but very motivated. I keep a “chip” list on my desk, that is a constant reminder for me. In that bucket I have a list of every coaching job I didn’t get and every coach who didn’t give me a chance to advance. People are motivated by several things. Mine comes in three phases. One, my calling from God to do this. Two, my “chip.” Three, helping ‘BTG’ for my coaches and players, which means ‘bridge the gap.”

Q: Why bridge the gap?

Smith: “I feel like God has called me to bridge the gap for everyone I come in contact with. Meaning, I believe everyone I meet is in a certain place in their life and they are trying to get to a certain point. It’s my job to help bridge the gap between where they are and where they are trying to get. PJ Fleck(Minnesota head coach) has ‘row the boat’ and I have ‘bridge the gap.”

Q: What’s the most important non-football advice you give your players? What do you repeat over and over?

Smith: “Character will outlast talent. Invest in the moment.”

Q: Did your first season surpass what you felt you could do in year one?

Smith: “Yes and no. We felt with the players we had if we could get the culture changed we would be successful. We are excited to do as well as we did, not pleased or satisfied but excited.”

Q: Who are coaches you feel are at the top of the game? Who are some guys who have had an impact on the coach you are today?

Smith: “PJ Fleck is one of the best. Hugh Freeze is a guy who I admire professionally and personally. My high school coach, Jim Ray, is my all-time paradigm standard for coaches.”

Q: You, as well as your coaching staff, are very active on Twitter. Obviously you guys value that for your program. Why?

Smith: “Promotion is huge. We want our brand out in the public eye. I tell our staff that their Twitter is their active resume and to promote themselves, their faith, their program and their players. We identify our logos and make sure our brand is out there.”

Q: What are your initial feelings about next year’s team?

Smith: “We expect to be good. We have all of our skill players back and our staff is staying intact for the most part. So our development will be better. We expect to advance in the playoffs.”

Q: What are the most important elements in a player’s development in your opinion? Even a players who is beyond high school.

Smith: “Work ethic is the most important thing. Will a guy be willing to work. Also, what is he willing to sacrifice to accomplish his goals. Discipline. Athletically, I look at player’s feet. If they have good feet, they can develop. Speed, strength and quickness can be advanced, but the foundation has to be good. Feet, feet, feet.”

Q: What are the biggest challenges of being a head coach?

Smith: “Finding the fine line between doing what’s best for the individual and doing what’s best for the team.”

**Photo courtesy of Newton County Appeal

#JohnLukeMcCord #Newton

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