A new Cougar in chargePublished 10:13am Friday, August 1, 2014
As a player, Michael Smith became pretty accustomed to competing for state basketball titles at Auburn High School.
Now as a coach, he is tasked with leading a program that’s also used to success on the hardwood.
Smith has been chosen as the next head coach of the most storied basketball program in the area, as he will roam the sidelines for the Central High School – Coosa County Cougars boys basketball team.
As far as Smith is concerned, it’s one of the dream high school coaching jobs in all of Alabama.
“Central-Coosa is one of the better basketball jobs, I think, in the state. The tradition and history here is not matched by many places,” he said. “About 15 years ago, when I came back to Alabama, I said if there’s 10 places in the state where I’d love to coach at, Central-Coosa would be one of them. It’s because of the love of basketball in this community.”
Smith, an Auburn native and Auburn University graduate, is well aware of the Cougars’ history of success. As he prepares to lead a four-time state champion going forward, he compared it to his playing days at Auburn High, where he played under AHSAA Hall of Fame coach Frank Tolbert.
“We played for state championships and final fours. Now, things have changed,” Smith said of his time at Auburn. “Auburn is more of a football school but Central-Coosa is still a basketball school and hopefully we can win and get it how it needs to be and get back to Birmingham very soon.”
A knee injury derailed Smith’s playing career in college, and from there, he began to coach. He started as an assitant to Tolbert at Auburn High and also coached the junior varsity Tigers from 1995-2000.
From there, he had a one-year stint at Opelika High School before moving on to Forest Park, Ga., where he coached against the likes of Dwight Howard.
He spent three years there before coaching at Tallassee for five years.
“My mother ended up with Alzheimer’s, and I decided I needed to get back closer to Auburn, where my parents lived,” Smith said.
After that stint, health problems at home forced Smith to reassess his priorities and step away from the game.
“My daughter was having some medical problems and since I was missing too many days from school, I decided to get out of coaching and take care of her,” he said. “We waited three or four years, and now, everything’s fine. When she told me, ‘Daddy, it’s time to get back to coaching,’ I said it’s time to go.”
Well, Smith has landed with one of the tougher tasks a high school basketball coach – replacing a bonafide legend.
While the level of success left behind by Joe Belyeu heaps expectations on Smith, the new head coach said he’s more than up to the task, and he has every intention on bringing titles to Rockford, just as Belyeu did.
“No one can replace Coach Belyeu. He’s a hall of fame coach. I believe that I can’t fill his shoes, but I can only walk in my shoes. However, I believe that by walking in my shoes, I can have the same success that he did,” Smith said. “I may not get there how he did, but I think I can get there. Does that mean we will win state championships? I hope so. I’m confident in what I believe in, and no one is going to put more pressure on me than me. They said it’s tough up here and they want you to win. Well, I want to win, so the pressure is already on me to win every game and win every practice.”