PCHS football: Smalley hands back the reins
In the middle of the second quarter of his final game as head coach of the Park City High School football team, Kai Smalley crouched low, placed two fingers into the turf just like he did during his own playing days as a defensive lineman, and watched as his team trailed rival Wasatch, 21-7.
The Miner defense, clad in black on Senior Night, made three spectacular plays in a row, highlighted by a thunderous third-down stick by junior linebacker Konnor Andersen.
Smalley leapt up and threw a fist into the air. He screamed in celebration and grabbed Andersen when he walked back to the sideline, put his arm around his helmet and applauded him.
Much like Smalley’s final game, a 49-14 loss, his three-year tenure at Park City featured high highs and low lows. After winning a Region 10 championship in his first year at the helm of the Miners and finishing 6-4, Smalley and Park City struggled the next two seasons, going a combined 4-17, including 3-7 in Region 10 play.
On Wednesday afternoon, the former University of Oregon defensive lineman resigned as head coach of the Park City Miners, effective immediately. Smalley informed his team of the decision in its end-of-the-year team gathering.
"It was just as hard if not harder than I thought it was," Smalley said Wednesday evening. "It doesn’t have the impact when you’re leaving as a coordinator as it does as a head coach. It’s tough."
Smalley’s decision to leave Utah in hopes of once again returning to his home state of Oregon has been in the back of his mind ever since he moved to the Beehive State, he said. Now that the chance to return home has presented itself, Smalley figured that the move would be best for him and his family.
"This year, it just started to become more clear," he said. "After last year, it was rough going through that season, and it didn’t really cross my mind until now — it’s just one of those things that made me realize to make a move, and now is as good a time as any.
"For me, it’s always been there, the thing about getting home, but at the same time, it’s hard once you get involved with these kids. It’s just one of those things."
After being an assistant head coach at Thurston High School in Oregon, followed by a defensive coordinator stint at Marist High School in Eugene, Ore., where he won two state titles, Smalley moved to Utah and eventually became the defensive coordinator and an offensive assistant at Wasatch High School. It was there that Smalley implemented his spread-style offense, much like the system his alma mater, Oregon, is using to ravage NCAA opponents.
In the spring of 2010, Smalley applied for the Park City job, left open by the departure of Brandon Matich, who took the heading coaching job at East High School in Salt Lake City. That year, Park City won a Region 10 title with a spread offense employed by a group of players who grew up playing a triple-option-style offense. That year, the Miners were able to make it work, but lost a first-round home playoff game to Emery. In 2011 Park City struggled out of the gates, starting 0-5 and eventually finished 3-8 after another first-round postseason exit to Desert Hills in St. George.
This season the Miners were undersized, inexperienced and injury-prone. Smalley said in all of his years coaching he’s never had to mix-and-match as many players to positions due to injury as he did in 2012 when Park City went 1-9 and 0-5 in region play.
"It’s not so much the lack of skill players, it’s the lack of linemen and pure size that you can’t plug in," he said. "It’s kind of cyclical in that sense, but it would be nice to have some of the other kids in the community and the school playing because we have some good athletes here. I should say fortunately and unfortunately, because we have so much for these kids to do, but not many people have played football."
Former Park City star Jake Adams, now playing at William Penn University in Des Moines, Iowa, with older brother, Scott, and former Miner teammate Daniel Surfass, said the news of Smalley’s resignation was shocking. Adams said Smalley quickly became a father figure to him when Smalley took over during his senior year at Park City.
"I thought Smalley was going to be a really good coach there for a long time and turn the program around, but sometimes, it’s not always the case," he said. "It just sucks hearing how he’s done after three years."
Park City High School athletic director Doug Payne said he and Principal Bob O’Connor are going to sit down in the coming days and figure out the process of hiring the next head football coach at Park City. Payne said there have been several volunteers in-house who have expressed interest in taking over for Smalley, but that the process of hiring the next coach will be ironed out sometime next week.
Payne said Smalley’s job security wasn’t in question following this year’s 1-9 season.
"We hadn’t really crossed that road," he said. "We normally don’t go on win-loss records when we have a new coach come in. We usually like to give them at least three years. We like to give them the benefit of the doubt."
Smalley, a lifelong coordinator, said the administrative and political side of being a head coach took its toll. More than being the top dog, Smalley said his niche is coordinating on one side of the ball — that’s where he is happy.
"I like coaching kids and, on Friday nights, I don’t want to have to worry about the big picture of structurally how the game is happening, with the clock and timeouts — even making sure that substitutions are correct," he said. "There’s just a whole lot that goes into being a coordinator that I really enjoyed doing. For years, that’s what I did. For the past few years, it feels like I’ve been half giving effort on that and it’s all dealing with administrative stuff. Then, I feel like I am not giving everything to my players. If I’m doing one thing, I want to do it well."
Smalley said he plans on remaining at Park City High School through the 2012-13 school year as a physical education teacher and will help the next Miner head coach become acclimated to the players and the program.
"The longer I stayed here as head coach, the longer I was stringing those kids along," he said. "I had to make and own up to a decision. I took this job to help (the players) out and until someone tells me to stop doing it, I’m going to help them out."
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