Photo: Pictured is Gadsden City head football Ali Smith with (from left) daughter Kelis, wife Lamesha and son Khamari. (Not pictured: daughter Alicia) (Courtesy of GCHS)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
After 13 years and four head coaches, Gadsden City finally hired a local product to lead, guide and direct the school’s football program.
Longtime GCHS assistant football coach Ali Smith, who has been the program’s interim head coach for the past several months, was officially named head coach at the July 9 meeting of the Gadsden City Board of Education. Smith has worked in the Gadsden City School System for 18 years and has coached for 21 years, the past 13 at Gadsden City.
“It feels good in the sense to get it over with so our kids can focus and people can stop asking,” said Smith, who is also the school’s track and field coach. “At the end of the day, I want to show the young men on our team along with all the kids in our schools and in the community that good things can come if you work hard and strive towards your dream. I’ve been in this school system since 1997 and ex-cept for five years at Alabama State, I’ve been in this community all my life. So I feel that Gadsden is me, and I just hope we can build for our future.”
When Gadsden, Emma Sansom and Litchfield high schools consolidated to form Gadsden City in 2006, Smith served as the football team’s linebacker coach for the program’s inaugural season before taking over as defensive coordinator and assistant head football coach the following year.
In addition, Smith served as the program’s recruiting coordinator from 2006 to 2013.
The Titans struggled record-wise the past two seasons with a combined 6-14 record and no playoff appearances. Toward that end, Smith’s short-term goals to get the program back on the winning track do not include Xs and Os.
“We’re just trying to get our kids to show up on time and do what they’re supposed to do when they’re here. We’re got to clean up our own house before we can worry about anybody else. We have our share of problems that we’ll try to correct. Our winter and spring workouts were good, but self-discipline really stats when school is out for the summer and you have to get up at 5:45 to be at workouts at 6:30. That’s when you see who’s bought in and who hasn’t.”
A 1992 Emma Sansom High graduate, Smith was a part of the school’s last state championship, the Rebels’ 1992 Class 4A state basketball team coached by George Baker. As a member of the school’s football team under coach Buster Gross, Smith was an all-area cornerback selection in 1989, 1990 and 1991. Both coaches are members of the Etowah County Sports Hall of Fame.
“Coach Gross and Coach Baker were always open and honest with us, which is how I try to be with my players,” said Smith, who was included in the Emma Sansom High School Wall of Fame in 2007. “I try to model myself after a lot of the things they did. The [Emma Sansom basketball] teams before us probably had better talent than we did, but the chemistry we had and our hard work paid off in the end. The belief in our coaches and our teammates was what put us over the top. Coach Baker always talked about more than basketball; he talked about life, which carried over to the basketball court. That’s what I want to share with our players.”
Smith earned a football scholarship to Alabama State University in Montgomery, where he played under Houston Marham 1992 to 1997 and majored in criminal justice. He then earned a bachelor degree in physical education from Jacksonville State University.
GCHS Principal Kevin Young believes that that Smith will bring hard work, dedication and commitment to the student-athletes under his watch.
“Above all, that’s what made Coach Smith the candidate that we wanted,” said Young. “He was our guy all along.”
Young said that Smith being a home-grown product factored into the board’s decision.
“He’s been around even before the school consolidated 13 years ago, so he knows our history and knows our community and knows our kids. Coach Smith knows the City of Gadsden and knows how to bring everyone together, and I think that’s what we needed at this time.
“I’ve known about his football knowledge from working with him first-hand, but it was the intangibles that set Coach Smith apart from others. We were blown away by his commitment to detail and his work ethic.”
Young noted it is not a coincidence that the football program’s numbers are up since last season in terms of participation.
“Coach Smith is developing relationships with kids who need to be out there playing football, and that’s because he’s developing relationships with kids around the school and not just football players.”
Young pointed to Smith’s success with the GCHS track and field program over the past several years, with a number of boys and girls annually qualifying for the Class 7A state meet in Gulf Shores.
“The dedication and hard work he’s made to track and field will be carried over to football. Coach Smith is going to be all about the kids at Gadsden City and making sure that they have what they need to be successful.”
Gadsden City School Superintendent Tony Reddick echoed Young’s belief that Smith’s longstanding local ties will serve him well.
“I think it’s significant that Ali is a product of our school system. Much more so than our previous coaches did, Ali has a feel for the community. Most importantly, he has the support of the players’ parents, a lot of whom he went to school with and attends church with. So I think Ali can certainly empathize with his kids in whatever they’re having to endure as both students and athletes. I think Ali has the right attitude and right motivation to, first and foremost, turn our players into young men.
“Just as it was a natural transition for me to have an opportunity to become superintendent after so many years as a local educator, I believe that it was a natural transition for Ali to eventually become [GCHS] head [football] coach. We need to trust somebody to bring us back to championship form, so it might as well be somebody who has been involved in every facet of the game over the past several years.”