Steve Smith was the offensive coordinator at Albany State from 2009-11 and is returning to the Good Life City after officially being rehired on Wednesday to replace Uyl Joyner.
ALBANY -- The “Gold Rush” just regained some of its luster.
Albany State football coach Mike White confirmed on Wednesday that former offensive coordinator Steve Smith is returning to his job with the Rams after two seasons away from the program.
“Albany State is like a family, and it’s like I am coming home,” Smith told The Herald by phone in his first comments to the media Wednesday.
Smith left ASU in 2011 after two years with the team to accept a job with Division I Tennessee State and then was an assistant offensive line coach with the Kansas City Chiefs last season but was not brought back to the team after new Chiefs coach Andy Reid replaced much of the coaching staff.
It took more than two months for the Rams to officially replace offensive coordinator Uyl Joyner, who stepped down at the beginning of May to accept a similar position at Dougherty High. But Smith quickly emerged as the leading candidate, and sources told The Herald nearly two weeks ago that Smith would likely be re-hired.
On Wednesday — a little more than six weeks before the season opener — it became official.
“I am very excited. I think we have a great group of talent,” Smith said. “The players are excited, too. I think they are excited to go back and get things done the way they used to be done.”
Smith had immense success in his two years at ASU, installing the “Gold Rush,” pro-style offense and leading the team to a 19-4 record — 8-3 in 2009 and 11-1 in 2010. His offense, which was led by back-to-back conference MVP quarterbacks A.J. McKenna (2009) and Stanley Jennings (2010), was ranked in the Top 10 in numerous categories in Division II and No. 1 in the conference and led the Rams to a perfect 10-0 regular-season record in 2010 and a SBN Black College National Championship.
Smith said he’s ready to take the Rams, who finished 6-4 last season and missed the Division II playoffs for the first time since an NCAA postseason ban was lifted in 2004, back to the top of the conference and beyond.
“We definitely want the opportunity to compete for a national championship, not just a black college national championship,” he said.
White, who told The Herald two months ago that he and Smith have stayed friends the past two years, confirmed that Smith will also be the offensive line coach.
“We are excited to have him back in the program,” White said. “He did an outstanding job for us when he worked here before. We’re just ready to get the season started with a new offensive coordinator.”
The hiring had been expected for some time but was prolonged during the summer, leaving Smith with less a month with his new team before the beginning of preseason camp.
Smith, however, said the quick turnaround is an obstacle he can overcome.
“That doesn’t hurt us,” he said. “We just have to get to work and do what needs to get done.”
He will bring a year’s worth of top-level experience to the Rams after working under long-time NFL offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
“Every year as a coach you grow,” Smith said. “Going to the NFL, you grow a lot faster. You are at the pinnacle and climax of where you want to coach at. Every coach has the dream of going to the highest level.
“I learned from (former Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel) to be patient and how to make decisions. And I learned some concepts on offense from Daboll that I might not have thought of before.”
Smith didn’t rule out an eventual return to the NFL one day — he applied for offensive line coaching jobs with Detroit and Oakland earlier this year — but said his current focus is solely on Albany State.
“I am going to be a day-to-day guy, but right now my focus is what we need to do here at Albany State,” Smith said.
Smith is tasked with turning around an offense that struggled mightily last year, finishing outside of the Top 100 in the nation in every major statistical category. ASU struggled behind Florida Atlantic transfer QB David Kooi, but Grambling State transfer Frank Rivers was recently signed by the Rams and could be the next QB to succeed under Smith’s “Gold Rush” offense.
“Just from talking to people and watching him play, I think he can do some of the same things (as McKenna and Jennings), but only time can tell,” Smith said. “But it’s still a competition, and he has to win that starting position. Nothing is given.”
Smith will be a new face to most on the ASU roster, but he rejoins a nearly identical coaching staff as the one he left two years ago, and some of his inherited players — OL Victor Moli, OL Darvel Nelson, RB Kareem Hess and WR Orion Ponder — were recruited by him.
“I have a lot of guys coming back that I have seen play, and I know what they can do,” he said. “There are some guys who were a part of that team in 2010, and there are a lot of players we recruited who have become veterans now.”
Smith is also returning to a frustrated fan base that he is certain remembers the quarterfinal loss to Delta State in 2010 and a crucial play call in the first half. Instead of giving the ball to conference MVP Jennings on a third-and-goal from the 3-yard line, Smith put the offense in a Wildcat formation and watched as the snap sailed over Ponder’s head and was recovered by Delta State.
A touchdown on that play would have given Albany State a 14-7 lead in a game that they eventually lost, 28-7.
“A lot of people are a little sour from that Delta State game and a couple of the decisions I made at that time,” he said. “I can understand that, and that’s the fan base. ... But I don’t regret anything.”
The team’s first preseason practice is Aug. 12, and ASU’s season opener is Sept. 7 at North Greenville (S.C.).