Prep football: New Carlisle coach will stress mentorship, character

Carlisle High School football coach T.J. Smart
Carlisle High School football coach T.J. Smart

CARLISLE — T.J. Smart’s first head coaching job is with a Carlisle High School football team that didn’t win a game in 2018.

Some people may see that as a daunting challenge. Smart prefers to look at the bright side.

“They’re not that far removed from success. They were in the playoffs three years ago,” he said. “I played them last year. I thought they had some dudes. The injury bug hit them a little bit. A multitude of things hit them.”

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Mike Brown stepped down after the 0-10 season, going 21-21 during his four years at the helm. That led to the hiring of Smart, who’s been an assistant coach for a decade.

“It was the only job I applied for,” said Smart, 29. “They’ve got a rich tradition, and with the coaches I’ve been around and putting my time in as an assistant, I felt I was ready. So I went ahead and applied.”

He spent last year as the assistant head coach at Oakwood, working as the special teams coordinator while helping with the defensive line and running backs.

Smart, a 2008 Fairmont graduate, was also an assistant at Oakwood in 2013. His other coaching jobs were at Belmont, Tipp City Bethel and Beavercreek.

The connection to Carlisle is CHS athletic director John Augustine. He was the AD at Bethel when Smart coached there.

“I’m real enthusiastic and very simple,” Smart said. “I believe in bringing in systems, not a bunch of plays or defense of the week. We want players to play fast. We preach effort and culture every day.”

Smart won’t have a day job at Carlisle, at least for the time being. He’s a special education paraprofessional at Beavercreek.

“If something pops open down there or something works out, obviously I’d love to be in the building,” Smart said. “But football coach and job don’t always go together these days.”

He coached under Butch Snider and Rick Robertson at Oakwood, Scott Clodfelter at Bethel and Beavercreek, and Earl White at Belmont.

Smart said the Indians will use a 4-3 defense. Joel Householder, who’s coached at multiple schools during a 47-year career, will be the defensive coordinator.

Dave Woodgeard is set to be the offensive coordinator. The base offense will be the shotgun Wing-T.

“We’re going to be very similar to what Belmont runs,” Smart said. “Earl White has been a great mentor to me. I like what he does, and I think it fits our kids at Carlisle. We’re not going to be like the triple option and pass five times a game. We’ll throw a little more than that, but we’ll be very run-oriented.”

Smart will be the special teams coordinator. He’s held that position on every staff he’s been a part of.

“We spend more time on special teams that I’d say most of the teams in Ohio,” Smart said. “I put a huge emphasis on that. I think if the head coach believes in it, the kids will believe in it.”

Jon Lewis, Tony Phillips, Zac Philpot and Jory Brown will also be assistant coaches. One more coach will be hired.

Smart said beyond the Xs and Os, he will be installing a mentorship program. He wants it to be the driving force behind Carlisle football.

“When I interviewed my coaches, the first thing I said was, ‘If you’re not all in on the mentorship program and the culture piece of it, then we’ll just stop the interview right now,’ ” Smart said.

He said the program is very specific and described it like this:

“Basically each coach has four or five kids. They meet with them once a week, check in on school, how’s the home life, and they challenge them to make plays outside of football, whether that’s opening a door for an old person or just little plays like that to help build their character.

“Then the players will mentor each other, and they’ll have a new partner every week. We’ve got a goal sheet for them, what they need to work on, did they challenge a teammate, praise a teammate, review practice with a teammate … it’s very involved.

“Another piece of that is the seniors will write letters to their mom, and we’ll have dad jersey night where the dads present the jersey to the seniors for the season. So not only are coaches mentoring players, players are mentoring players, and we’re bringing the parents into this to help us build good young men.”

Smart is single and resides in Kettering, and he’s working toward a degree in organizational leadership at Wright State University. He wants to build a strong bridge between the high school and middle school programs at Carlisle.

The Indians will open the 2019 season at home against Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy on Aug. 30. That’s also Smart’s birthday.

“I’m excited to be there, and I’ve been impressed so far by the kids’ work ethic in the weight room,” he said. “These young kids have just got to develop and mature. If we keep preaching culture and really investing in the kids in the mentorship program, the wins will come.”