Norwich alum and Army Col. gains dream of coaching football

In August of 2014, the Norwich University football team added an alum and military veteran to its coaching staff, and this member has undergone a huge transition from the military to the football field.

After a 30-year career in the United States Army, including four years as the professor of military science at Norwich University, Col. Stephen Smith, NU ‘84, is now a wide receivers coach for the university’s football team. Smith, who graduated 30 years ago, played tight end on the football team during his time at Norwich.
As professor of military science, “my job was to plan and provide oversight for the entire (Army ROTC) program and to handle things such as recruiting, operations, and training management,” Smith said. The position also requires making sure that the department meets the certain amount of students that need to be commissioned, and ensures that they are properly trained.
Coaching was always a personal ambition for Smith. “I always wanted to coach (at Norwich),” Smith said. After completing a combined six years in the Army Reserve and on active duty, Smith sought a master’s degree at Norwich and had aspirations to coach football. But Smith was required to file paperwork in order to be released from active duty and when Smith gave his company commander the paperwork, his response was. “Smith you’re not going anywhere,” he said
The company commander “knew I would be successful in the Army as a leader and I am glad he made that decision.” According to Smith, his company commander saw him having more of an impact in the Army and urged him to stay in. Now he’s finally reaching his longtime aim.
“It took me 30 years to get here but it was always a goal of mine to coach,” he said.
Going from a 30-year military career to coaching college football is a huge transition, said the newly-retired colonel, who had little time to prepare for his new role.
“I signed out from the Army at Fort Drum on a Friday, and I reported to work on a Monday,” he said. The role switch was a complete change of responsibility and focus for him: “You go from being the guy in charge to literally being the lowest guy on the totem pole.”
But players have noticed Smith’s good handling of the transition. “He is doing well so far as a rookie coach,” said David Lynch, 19, a sophomore criminal justice major and wide receiver from Ashland, Mass. “He is good at teaching skills (for playing wide receiver) while relying on his leadership experience to add a critical factor for our team,” added Lynch.
Smith prepared himself mentally as he was going to make the transition to coach football. “I did my thing in the Army, spent 30 years, and it was my time to go,” Smith said. He noted the same things that were important in the Army as an officer are the same things that are important to him as a coach at Norwich.
“I have brought a lot of the skills that I learned as a football player, as a cadet, and with 30 years in the Army to the football field,” Smith said. Though football and the military are very different, they share the same concepts. “There is a team that has to perform under pressure, it has to be disciplined, committed, and loyal.” The values that are applied in the military at Norwich also must be applied on the football field, as well as the battlefield.
“Coach Smith demands leadership from us and to pick up (teammates) when they are down,” said Trystan Colaire, 19, a sophomore biology major and wide receiver from Toronto, Ont. Colaire is one of many Cadet wide receivers that appreciate Coach Smith’s hard-nosed and gritty coaching style that undoubtedly originated from his days in the Army.
Norwich students are going to need to be leaders in the military or the civilian world, Smith said, and that’s his attitude about coaching.
“For me it’s more than winning football games, it is developing a young adult and making them better when they graduate, not only as a football player but more importantly as a person.”
The Cadets continue their in-conference schedule on Nov. 8 for an away contest against SUNY Maritime, and finish the regular season Nov. 15 against Castleton on Sabine Field at 1 p.m. They are currently 6-2 and second in the ECFC standings.

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