Roland Smith is coaching Central in Saturday afternoon’s state championship in the Citrus Bowl six years after he wasn’t allowed to defend the last title he won.
“I never thought that state championship game in 2006 would be my last high school game,” Smith said. “I never thought I’d lose my job over something that I had nothing to do with and none of my coaches had any control over.”
Smith spent six seasons turning his alma mater, Northwestern, into a state champion. A few months later, Smith and his coaching staff at the time were fired from their jobs at Northwestern in the wake of an off-field incident involving then-star running back Antwain Easterling.
Six years later, Smith has earned a second chance to become a state championship coach at rival Central. The Rockets (13-1) take on Seffner Armwood (14-0) on Saturday at 1 p.m. in the Class 6A final.
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“The kids [at Northwestern] did their part without us and we were happy for them,” said Smith, who in addition to the 2006 state title, led Northwestern to a state runner-up finish and two state semifinal appearances. “But it hurt because we felt we had developed those kids until three weeks before the season when the announcement came that we wouldn’t be able to coach them.”
Smith was forced to watch as the team he helped develop at Northwestern won a national championship in 2007. Smith and his coaching staff were subsequently absolved from any wrongdoing in the case.
Several of Smith’s assistants returned to coaching shortly after the 2007 season, most notably then assistant coach Telly Lockette, who would become head coach at Central in 2008.
Lockette guided Central into a championship dynasty, winning two state titles in three seasons and leading the Rockets to state three consecutive seasons.
Smith, however, remained out of the coaching ranks the past six seasons. He taught for two years at 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project and at North Miami Middle School.
Smith, 44, had a few opportunities to return to the high school sideline, and was often rumored as a candidate whenever high-profile coaching positions became available such as Booker T. Washington and even Northwestern.
Smith wanted to spend time with his only son, Roland III, now an 11-year old aspiring football player at Franklin Academy Elementary School.
“I had opportunities to come back, but I just wanted to be a good father to my son,” Smith said. “There are things a father wouldn’t be able to do when you’re coaching. I was able to spend time with him and go to his practices and be with him on a daily basis.”
When Lockette stepped down this past spring to accept an assistant coaching position at the University of South Florida, Smith decided it was the right time to return to coaching.
Six years after being forced to leave behind a national championship-caliber team, Smith inherited one from his former protégé and has guided them to a Dade County-record fourth consecutive state appearance and within a victory of the school’s third state championship in four seasons.
It was also a reunion for some of the former Northwestern crew that had coached with him in the past. Central offensive coordinator Alexander Snipes, offensive line coach Michael Ross, assistant offensive line coach Robert Terry and quarterbacks coach Scott Daniels were all on the Bulls’ 2006 coaching staff with Smith.
Smith’s main goal was to make sure not to disrupt the chemistry of an already well-oiled machine that entered the season in position to contend for a national championship.
“The kids really responded to [Smith] after Telly left,” Central linebackers coach Dwight Jackson said. “He’s really done a great job of making sure things kept going on track.”
Smith doesn’t like to project his long-term coaching future. He said he has definitely found a new home at Central.
“The alumni and community has embraced me from the beginning,” Smith said. “I’ve only been here a year, but it feels like I’ve been here longer. That’s how well this community has treated me.”