For the first time in more than three decades, the Grove City College football team will have a new coach when they kick off the 2016 season.
Chris Smith, who has coached the Wolverines for the past 31 seasons and has been affiliated with the program for 39 of the past 46 seasons, announced Wednesday that he’ll be resigning at the conclusion of the 2015 season.
“It’s a combination of many things with the calendar being among the most important,” he said. “I’ll be at an age next year where I’ve always told myself that I should get out of this. Not that I want to, because I still enjoy. It’s a great profession and I love every moment of it. There’s a time to get and I’d rather get out when I’m still enjoying it instead of taking it a little too far. Next December, it’ll be at a time and I’ll be at an age when it’ll be more appropriate.”
Smith has a 122-176-2 record after becoming the head coach in 1984.
“It was a tough decision,” the GCC all-time wins leader said. “I really enjoy what I do. I enjoy the players and we have such a great staff here at Grove City College. Every year, I’m amazed by the quality of people I get to work with. In life, there are no reset buttons. I can’t do this for five more years and wish I had five more years to spend with my family being that age. Once it’s gone by, it’s gone by. Thirty-two years as of next season is a very significant number.”
The college announced Wednesday that former Wolverines four-year starting quarterback Andrew DiDonato will replace Smith at the conclusion of the 2015 season.
“It really is a unique situation,” Smith said. “It’s a situation that I think will work out for everybody involved – Andrew, myself and more importantly the program. It’s something that I believe shows the insight that the college has.
“It gives me a chance to work with a coaching staff that I’m very fond of and have worked long and hard with. It also gives me the chance to work with a young man that I coached for four seasons and had a great relationship with. I look forward to mentoring him and benefitting from his knowledge, which is significant. That combination should make for a really exciting year and a year that will be amazingly productive. It’s going to be a good thing.”
DiDonato is in his third year at two-time WPIAL Class AA champion and reigning PIAA titlist South Fayette High School, serving as offensive coordinator the past two years. In that role, he successfully directs an explosive offensive system that features Pennsylvania's all-time leader in passing yardage, quarterback Brett Brumbaugh. DiDonato has also coached at the University of Buffalo and Peters Township High School.
“I hope there are changes,” Smith said. “Taking his knowledge and combining it with what we have can make us better. The other thing it does is it brings someone in who does things that I won’t have to learn how to do. If I was fixing a sink, I wouldn’t learn how to be a plumber. I’d hire a plumber. If our offense is going to be more upbeat and no huddle, I’m bringing in someone who’s extremely knowledgeable in that and I don’t have to learn that.”
DiDonato graduated as Grove City College’s record holder in career passing yards (7,509), pass completions (750), and touchdown passes (49). He also holds the Wolverines’ season and game records in each of those three categories. DiDonato concluded his career as a student athlete by earning the College’s Sportsman of the Year award in 2010.
“Having known Andrew DiDonato for many years as coach and colleague, he is an excellent choice to lead the next generation of Wolverine football and I’m delighted that he is joining our staff,” Smith said. “As I prepare to embark upon my final year as head coach, I’m excited about the prospects for the 2015 season and I am confident in Andrew's experience and ability to lead our program for many years to come.”
Smith has been associated with the college for all but seven of the past 46 years.
As a starting safety from 1968-1971, he led the Wolverines in interceptions all four years and holds the program record with 22 career interceptions. After graduating in 1972, Smith returned to his alma mater in 1979 to serve as assistant football and track coach. Smith was promoted to head football coach in 1984 and he served as athletic director from 1996 to 2003. In 1997, Smith was named Division III Coach of the Year by the Metropolitan New York Football Writers Association.
During his 31 seasons atop the Wolverines program, Smith earned national and regional acclaim including Presidents’ Athletic Conference championships in 1997 and 1998 and runner-up finishes in 1999 and 2000. He coached eight players to All-American status and five of his former players landed on the PAC’s 60th Anniversary team last August. Four players earned CoSIDA Academic All-American honors, while three players received NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships during his tenure.
“For more than three decades, Coach Smith’s unwavering dedication to Wolverine football has been a blessing to Grove City College,” Grove City College president Paul J. McNulty said. “Our program has been fortunate to have an excellent teacher and leader of young men in Coach Smith. His mentorship helped to shape scholar athletes whose on-field success mirrored success in the classroom and later, in life. We thank Coach Smith and want him to know that he will always be part of the legacy of athletic excellence at Grove City College.”
Looking back on his time at GCC, Smith will remember the people more than the wins and the losses.
“You remember the people for far longer than you remember the scores,” he said. “You remember the people and your relationships with them far more clearly than if you beat W&J that year or lost to whoever. The R.J. (Bowers) years are the most memorable as far as we got the most publicity, but then there’s the first year and the fourth year … the Sam Mowrey years … Andrew DiDonato … Brian Pell …. I could go on and on. There’s literally thousands plural of people.”
Smith plans to devote more time to his wife Barbara, their daughter Ellie and two grandchildren as well as becoming more involved in the community.
“I have plans with my family – my grandchildren, my daughter and my wife,” he said. “Outdoor activities, which I love. Hopefully, I’ll have more time to be involved in activities that are of a benefit to people and the community.”