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Smothers hopes to revive winning tradition at W.S. Neal

By By ROBERT BLANKENSHIP – Managing Editor
When the search began for a new head coach at W.S. Neal, principal Phillip Ellis said they wanted a winner. If two collegiate national championships as a player and an overall record of 50-15 with one appearance in a state championship game in seven years at various coaching posts fits the description of a winner, then the Blue Eagles have definitely found the right man.
Shane Smothers officially began his new job this past week as W.S. Neal's head football coach and athletic director. The 28-year-old is looking to bring his own unique game plan to a school respected for its history.
It was not just his stellar record as a coach that attracted the six-person selection committee to Smothers. Todd Williamson, who was on the committee, said Smothers stood out from six other finalists because of his enthusiasm and excitement.
Smothers grew up in Walker County, Ala. where he attended Curry High School. Despite the many miles that separates his childhood home and East Brewton, Smothers said he has always known of the traditions of W.S. Neal and T.R. Miller high schools.
After high school, Smothers went to the University of North Alabama as a quarterback. After his first year, he was moved to wide receiver. He attended UNA at a time when they were a Division II juggernaut. He wears two national championship rings that he earned while playing for the Lions.
For his first coaching assignment, Smothers returned home where he was an assistant at Curry High School. In his first year the team went 10-4 and the second year they finished at 9-3.
He then moved to 5A Cullman where he was an assistant for a 7-3 team.
In 1998, Smothers became the offensive coordinator at Parrish High School in Walker County. The team was ranked top in the state in both defense and offense and were ranked number one in the state for much of the season.
After an undefeated regular season, Parrish rolled through the playoffs and made it to the state championship game against Brantley High School. Smother recalled the disappointment when the opposition scored a game-winning touchdown.
After his one-year assignment at Parrish, Smothers once again returned to Curry. But this time, football was not in the cards. Instead he coached basketball and golf.
One day, he received a phone call from Russellville High School wanting to know if he would be interested in a job there. He was quick to get on board. As the the quarterback and receivers coach, he helped lead the 5A Golden Tigers to a 10-4 record in 2000, once again falling short of a championship after a semi-final loss to Homewood High School.
During the spring of that season, Smothers said he decided to commit himself to finding a head coaching position. He said he learned of the vacancy at McKenzie High School and thought he would give it a try.
But, he was offered the job and he suddenly found himself going from a 5A state semifinalist to a 2A team that went 0-10 the season before.
McKenzie reaped the benefits quickly as he led them to a 9-2 season where they were ranked third in the state in offense with 33 points per game.
In his second year, the team went 12-1, massing 44.8 points per game - second best in the state.
Now, Smothers finds himself at another high school yearning for a turn-around in recent fortunes. He said he has been very impressed with the attitudes of players and coaches so far.
Smothers said he has viewed several films of game footage and is excited about some of the things he saw.
He admits that there are some big shoes to fill on the offensive side of the ball, but is encouraged at the return of tailback Alphonso Gross.
He said every player will get a chance to prove they belong on the field during spring practices which begin on April 28.
As for assistant coaches, he said they will have to prove themselves too.
Smothers said his goal is to help W.S. Neal players mature and, ultimately, win the biggest game in the state.
He said the backbone of most championship-caliber football programs is discipline.
On the field, Smothers said he will serve as the quarterback coach and offensive coordinator.
For now, Smothers is driving the 55-mile trip from south Butler County to East Brewton. But, he said he, his wife, Amy, and three sons: Luke, 8; Landon, 6 and Logan, 2, are excited about making the final move to Escambia County.
Smothers said he felt fortunate to get the opportunity to coach at W.S. Neal.