Mays steps down as Viera football coach, Smith to take over high-profile program


Derek Smith (left) will take over as Viera High's new football coach after his childhood friend, Kevin Mays, announced he is leaving the school after seven seasons. Mays turned the Hawks from a doormat into one of the state's top programs during his tenure.

Carl Kotala

Kevin Mays transformed the Viera High football program from one of Brevard County’s absolute worst to one of the state’s best over the course of the past seven years.

That’s what made it so hard to break the news to his players that he is leaving.

Mays and the Viera administration announced Thursday that he is stepping down as the Hawks head coach to become the athletic director at Tohopokeliga High in Osceola County, which is scheduled to open next August.

Derek Smith, who served as Mays’ defensive coordinator since 2013, has been named Viera’s new head coach.

Although the news officially broke Thursday afternoon, Mays shared his decision with some of his players earlier in the day.

“Some of the guys that have been here a long time with me, I wanted to tell them fact-to-face,” he said.

“I started to call some guys in and … that was rough. I broke down a couple of times. It’s hard it let go of something that you put so much time and effort into.

“Everyone here is great, from the coaches to the players, the cheerleaders, the band, the administration and the community. I tried to tell the kids it was absolutely nothing personal, or (that I’m) unhappy at this point. It was a promotion that I saw, and something that I want to do.”

The Hawks finished 3-7 the season before Mays arrived at Viera in 2011. At the time, those three wins were the most in program history.

Simply put, the Hawks were the team everyone wanted to schedule for their homecoming game.

Viera went 50-27 under Mays, reaching the Class 7A state championship game in 2015. This past season, the Hawks won their fourth consecutive district title and advanced to the regional semifinal.

“Myself, along with the entire Viera Community, are grateful for all that Coach Mays has done over the past seven years,” Viera High Principal Mike Alba said in a statement released by the school.

“Through his leadership, Viera High School Football is among one of the top programs in the state. He will be missed and I know he will continue to experience success in his new position.”

Smith, 44, is a former head coach and athletic director at Bayside High. He led the Bears to the regional finals in 2009 and 2010.

Though he is excited to take over the Viera program, parting ways with his childhood friend will be tough.

“It’s bittersweet without a doubt,” Smith said. “And the reason I say bitter is out of my 20 years of coaching in Brevard County, 16 years of it I’ve worked with him or alongside him. He used to be my offensive coordinator at Bayside. At Palm Bay, we worked together.

“When your best friend is going on somewhere separate, it makes it bitter. The sweet part is, obviously, this is a fabulous program to continue with. The kids have a great opportunity because they’re not having to change.”

While Smith will still run the Viera defense, Mike Degory will step into the role as offensive coordinator for the Hawks while also continuing to work with the offensive line.

The expectation is that those moves should ensure a seamless transition as Smith takes over the Viera program … something Mays applauded.

“I sat down with (Viera principal Mike) Alba and I told him the least thing I want to happen at Viera is for what has been created to fall apart, and the best guy to keep that going is Derek,” Mays said.

“Everybody here was on board with Derek. I’m happy for him. I’m happy for all the coaches because there won’t be much change. And for the kids, they should be excited.

“Derek’s going to do great things here.”

Mays, meanwhile, is looking forward to the challenge of trying to build an entire sports program the way he built Viera football. The school is expected to have 2,100 students when it opens in August, which would put it in Class 7A.

Despite his passion for coaching football, the 44-year-old Mays has no plans to coach for the foreseeable future. Instead, he will make an effort to watch his son Brandon play in college.

Brandon, a four-year starter for Viera, just completed his senior season and has committed to attend West Point and play football for Army.

For those who may wonder why Smith didn’t follow Mays to Tohopokeliga High to coach football there, the Hawks’ new frontman had a perfect answer.

“My daughter is junior in high school and I wanted her to be able to finish her senior year out at Viera, which is next year,” Smith said. “I’m not going to not be around my daughter. I wanted to be at the same school where she’s at. My son is going to be a freshman here next year and he wanted the chance to experience being a Hawk, too.

“I’m not going anywhere.”

Mays’ tenure at Viera will end shortly. He starts work at Tohopokeliga High in January. And there’s no doubt, he feels like he is leaving the program in good hands.

“I want me leaving and (Smith) stepping in to be as less stressful on the kids as it can be,” Mays said. “The community deserves it. Everybody does. It was real hard for me to leave this.”