Chad Smith new CHS football head coach

One of three interviewed, was team’s defensive coordinator past three years

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Then-Chillicothe High School football assistant coach and defensive coordinator Chad Smith watches the Hornets' defense compete during a 2019 home game against St. Joseph: Benton. On Wednesday afternoon, Chillicothe school district officials disclosed quietly that Smith, also the high school's wrestling head coach since 2014, has been hired as new head coach of the football Hornets.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

Chad Smith officially was hired this past Tuesday to be head coach of Chillicothe High School’s Missouri Sports Hall of Fame member football program for 2021.

The Chillicothe R-2 School District administration publicly revealed the hire in an extremely-low-key disclosure Wednesday afternoon. The action, taken during a midday special meeting of the school board on Tuesday, was reported in a document listing a variety of district staff personnel moves e-mailed to local media just before 2 p.m. Wednesday.

“I was interested in the head football job because I love the game of football and everyone in Chillicothe wants our football program to be great,” Smith replied to questions e-mailed to him by the C-T overnight Wednesday-Thursday.

“Being in this school system for seven years has really helped me get to know the students and their families, so I am vested in this community and I want to do everything I can to make us successful.”

Dan Nagel, CHS principal and director of athletics who led the search for a new head coach for a second time in three years, commented on the new head coach’s selection, shared with the C-T by e-mail, “Coach Smith is well respected as a coach and person among the student-athletes and with the community.  Coach Smith is a unifier of all stakeholders pertaining to the football program and will try to help lead the program so that all are pulling the rope in the same direction toward the best possible outcomes for our athletes in the sport of football.”

While not responding to an inquiry regarding approximately how many applications for the head coaching vacancy were received after former head coach Tim Rulo submitted his resignation from the post after three seasons in late January, Nagel did share, “The top three candidates of those that applied were interviewed.”

Chad Smith, Chillicothe High School wrestling head coach and a football assistant coach for the past seven years, has been hired as new head coach of CHS' football Hornets for the 2021 season. It is his first football head coaching job. He served as defensive coordinator for head coach Tim Rulo the past three season.

Smith has served as an assistant football coach for the high school Hornets since his arrival in Chillicothe in 2014 and has been CHS wrestling head coach over that same time span. He affirmed to the C-T he intends to stay wrestling head coach.

Rulo said, at the time of his January decision, he resigned his coaching and teaching positions in the district to seek opportunities closer to family. He since has been hired as head coach of mid-Missouri’s Russellville’s virtually-new football program. 

Smith was football Hornets defensive coordinator during all three seasons of Rulo’s tenure here.

Joining the Chillicothe district staff in 2014-15 after a number of years at Hamilton, where – in addition to be wrestling head coach – he served on the football coaching staff of CHS alumnus Dave Fairchild, son of the Chillicothe program’s architect, the late Bob Fairchild, Smith spent four years as an assistant coach under then-CHS head coach Phil Willard, working with the offensive and defensive lines. Willard also utilized the same basic offensive and defensive systems embedded in the program by the elder Fairchild, making Smith a natural fit for the gridiron staff.

After Willard’s and most of his staff’s retirement/resignations after the 2017 season, Smith agreed to stay on as an assistant to Rulo, the only Willard assistant to do so.

When Nagel, who served as defensive coordinator for the last several years of Willard’s 20-years tenure, ascended to the CHS principal’s position from assistant principal in 2018-19, he needed to shed his coaching duty. Smith then agreed to take on the coordinator’s job for the new head coach.

Between the 2019 and 2020 seasons, Smith, who has a young family and whose wife Abby is Chillicothe Middle School principal, expressed a desire and intent to terminate his football coaching. However, at some point early last summer, with the program and district scrambling to grapple with the complications of the COVID-19 pandemic, he opted to continue on with the football program. He also is strength and conditioning instructor at the high school during the school year and summer weight program co-coordinator.

Now, he is tasked with quickly assembling his own staff of assistants, some of which likely will be holdovers. A number of the “newcomers” figure to have previous ties to the CHS program, the new head coach hinted.

“We are currently working on getting the best staff in place, We have awesome coaches in the district!” Smith disclosed to the C-T at midday Thursday.

At least one of Smith’s fellow 2018-20 assistants, Nik Ferri, had his resignation from Chillicothe coaching and teaching positions at the end of this school year accepted at Tuesday’s board meeting.

In terms of strategic and “X and O” offensive concepts, not surprisingly for a person weaned on University of Nebraska football as a youth, Smith seems geared toward the same power-run-heavy style which was a staple of the Bob Fairchild system. Rulo had implemented a double-wing “veer” system which sought to generate most yardage on the ground, as well, but with a riskier style that required option-play decisions by the quarterback and pitchouts. The desire was to create the potential for longer-yardage, “explosive” runs.

“You will see some very familiar plays from an unbalanced line from the ’T’ (formation) and (on the) goal line with tough running plays that will incorporate some double-team, kick-out, and lead blocking schemes,” Smith told the C-T in initial brief responses on the offensive “style” he expects to use. Some play-action pass plays off run fakes also will be utilized.

“We will also have a few spread formations like most running teams do,” Smith continued. “You have to be able to throw the ball to keep teams honest and stretch the field when we need a big play.”

For variety, he suggested, there might be some “single-wing” offensive plays integrated, as well.

With scant previous playing experience among the members of the 2018 and 2020 Chillicothe gridiron teams, those squads struggled on both offense and defense as they finished a combined 7-15, although both showed improvement and experienced success against less-accomplished opposition late in both campaigns.

In between, an experienced, mostly-senior 2019 Hornets club had a strong season, going 9-3. However, the team was generally non-competitive against its most-talented opponents that year, allowing 49 points in each of the defeats and sustaining the losses by a composite 147-33 margin.

Statistically, the Hornets allowed opponents an average of 22.5 points per 2019 game, a unusually-high number for that good a final record. In 2020, foes scored an average of 35 points a contest against Chillicothe and in 2018 32 points.

The 2021 CHS football team will have a large contingent of experienced players eligible to participate, leading to expectations of another bounce-back season, but this time with a more-advantageous spread of talent and experience across multiple grade levels that suggests less feast-or-famine scoreboard results and overall competitiveness from season to season over the next 3-5 years.