It’s a new direction for Michael Smith, but the coaching fires are still burning for him in basketball.
Smith recently took over as Unicoi County’s athletic director. He replaces Doug Cooper, who moved over to Science Hill to teach math and be an assistant football coach after a 20-year run as athletic director in the Unicoi County system.
Smith is the Blue Devils’ varsity assistant coach in basketball, and he will retain those duties — including junior varsity head coach. But he will step down as head tennis coach.
“There’s too much going on in the spring to coach tennis,” said Smith. “But in the winter, basketball is all there is. And I want to stay in coaching as long as I can.
“I still have the head coaching itch in basketball. But even if I don’t ever do that, I would still like to just help in basketball. That’s my love. I don’t think I will ever want to get out of basketball.”
Smith inherits a quality athletic program. The Blue Devils have been dominant through the years in spring sports — winning all six of the school’s state championships — and their boys and girls basketball programs have been very successful.
“We’ve got a good tradition in everything,” said Smith. “Football has a good tradition even though it has gone through hard times recently. The coaching staff is doing a good job to get that back where we want it to be.
“I don’t want to change anything. I want to keep the athletic program going in the direction it is going.”
Smith said he was surprised Cooper decided to leave.
“I thought he would be around four or five more years,” said Smith. “But when the opportunity came up for me, it was hard to pass up. I like all sports. I’m interested in everything.
“I’m very excited about working with everybody. I’m a little nervous, too, because I’m learning as I go.”
Cooper was athletic director at the middle school for four years before moving on to the high school. He said the opportunity to work with people like Stacy Carter, Keith Turner and Ralph Nelson was good incentive to make the move to the Hilltoppers’ program.
“I like getting back into coaching,” said Cooper, who was the Blue Devils’ head football coach for three seasons.
Under Cooper in 2006, the Blue Devils defeated Elizabethton for the first time in almost 40 years and earned the school’s only playoff berth in the last 16 years.
He said he doesn’t know what his exact coaching role will be this season.
“We will break it down next week and get things more specific,” said Cooper. “I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a great staff and a lot of good coaches and good athletes.”