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Tritons' Hale trades coaching for family

Assistant Smith named replacement

May 23, 2014
By JIM LINETTE ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Almost as suddenly as football coach James Hale informed Mariner High School that he was resigning after one season, the Tritons named his replacement by promoting from current staff.

Offensive coordinator Travis Smith, a teacher and football assistant for the Tritons since 2011, was named the new head coach on Friday. Smith is a former Tritons player, winning one district championship in 1991 when the team went 10-1, and graduated in 1994.

"It was a big surprise. I always wanted the job at Mariner and thought I would be some day, but some day is today," said Smith. "The assistant's job has prepped me, so it's all good. It was my first year as offensive coordinator, more organizational and schemes while Hale usually called the plays. I coached offensive line and whatever I was asked to do before Hale got here."

Citing changing family situations, Hale met with Mariner principal Robert Butz, a former Tritons football coach, and athletic director Vito Mennona on Tuesday to break the news.

"Julie (wife) and I had been talking about it about three months since we found out we were going to have our first grandkid," said Hale. "Julie wants to go back home (Panama City) to help raise the grandkid and be near an elderly parent. I've dragged her around to a lot of places, so I thought it might be time to finally retire."

The untimely death of a longtime Hale assistant coach at Cape High, Billy Brooks, the week before the spring game also played a part in the decision to retire.

"Billy's death shook me up and made me think, maybe it's time," said Hale. "I have no regrets about coming here. In fact, I always wanted to know what it would be like to coach at Mariner. I was offered the job in 1987, but I let someone talk me out of it. I'm glad I came back. I've always liked Vito and Robert is a great principal and runs the school so well. If I had not come back I always would have regretted it."

Hale also is retiring from public education at the end of this school year. The Tritons were 1-9 in his only season at the helm and lost their spring game last Friday 34-0 to Golden Gate at McKenna Field. Hale suffered through 0-10 seasons some 15 years ago at both Cape High and Lehigh.

"I've been to the top and I've been to the bottom," admitted Hale, "but you can still win at Mariner. It'll just take some time."

Smith, who was a member of the South Fort Myers championship coaching staff before joining the Tritons, begins his first assignment as head football coach but has also served as head girls' track coach at Mariner.

"Travis has Black and Silver in his blood," said Mennona, calling him an obvious choice. "I'm impressed with his fortitude, too. He has met with the boys and coaches and already has the early stages of his plan for success in place."

Understandably, Smith is anxious to get started with the offseason conditioning and weight training looming for the next two months.

"Coach Hale had the ability to motivate kids and his weight program is huge, so I'll keep that going," said Smith. "The new weight room is a whole new ball of wax for these kids. They still had the equipment and plates that were there from when I played.

"I won't be making any major changes, but maybe some philosophical changes," added Smith. "I want to bring back the tenacity we had when I played, it was almost a nastiness.

"We'll do some character building with the kids to make them not just great athletes but great people, too. I could see in the spring game film that we did a lot of things right, but just didn't come together as a team on some plays.

"No doubt we can improve on our record next year," he said. "We'll up the intensity in our offseason workouts to make the kids be in better condition when they take the field in the fall. I know the kids are excited about it (offseason)."

Hale recommended Smith for the job in his meetings with administrators.

"Travis had done a good job at Mariner before," said Hale. "He's a good fit for them and they'll have someone who could stay a long time. The kids love him and he loves those kids. He'll do a good job. If they had waited two or three weeks to name a replacement the kids would be jumping around not knowing and possibly think about transferring."

School choice in Lee County has spawned a significant number of school transfers, especially among athletes.

"It is what it is. Every coach has to deal with it," said Smith. "We're going to focus on the kids we have here now and not worry about what if somebody leaves. The best way to do that is to develop a relationship with the kids. Make them comfortable."

Smith's chance to turn the program around begins now. It remains to be seen if this summer's workouts will translate into wins on the field in the fall.



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