Toby Smith, one of the most successful coaches in the history of the Ohio Heritage Conference, is moving eight miles north from West Liberty-Salem to Bellefontaine.
Smith was hired as Bellefontaine’s football coach on Friday, ending his 14-year tenure as football coach at West Liberty-Salem. He will coach the West Liberty baseball team this spring before stepping down from that position.
“It’s an exciting opportunity,” Smith said.“It’s a challenge I wanted to take on at this point in my career.”
Smith, a Wittenberg graduate, was 111-40 on the football field. The Tigers finished 11-1 last fall and made the playoffs seven times in Smith’s tenure and six times in his last seven seasons.
Smith’s football teams also won the OHC championship in 2004, 2009, 2011 and 2012. Bellefontaine, of the Central Buckeye Conferece, hasn’t had a winning record since 2009 and has won a total of seven games in the last three seasons. It was 1-8 last season under coach Chris Schmidt, another Wittenberg graduate whose contract was not renewed after three seasons.
Telling the Tigers he was leaving was one of the toughest parts of the decision for Smith.
“That’s always a hard call to make,” Smith said.
Smith was just as successful on the diamond. His teams won 20 games 10 seasons in a row, and he was named the News-Sun All-Area Coach of the Year in 2010 after the Tigers won the OHC title and a district championship. Smith is 313-98 in baseball career.
West Liberty Athletic Director Jake Vitt said Smith often got calls from the around the state at this time of year as different schools tried to lure him away. Vitt said Smith wasn’t willing to move his family because he has young kids and his wife teaches at West Liberty. With Smith going to Bellefontaine, the family doesn’t have to move.
“It’s definitely a big loss for us,” Vitt said. “Personally, it’s a loss for me. We had more than just a coach and athletic director relationship. We were close friends. I’ve got mixed emotions. I’m happy he can go and start over with a struggling program and take it to the top like he did here. He’s got the ability to get that accomplished and get that going again. It won’t happen overnight, but he’ll have great success there.
“It’s definitely a loss for our athletes, not only on the field, but off the field. He was great with them in the classroom. There’s a probably a lot of kids who wouldn’t have graduated without him.”