He grew up in Brevard County, played high school football in Brevard County and coached for 24 years – all in Brevard County.
But for Viera High’s Derek Smith, it’s time to move on.
The 48-year-old Smith announced last month he was resigning as the Hawks head coach and taking a job at McIntosh High School in Peachtree City, Georgia, which is just over 30 miles south of Atlanta.
He will leave Viera next week.
“It was time,” Smith said. “This is an opportunity that’s going to be great for me and my family.”
Smith spent eight years at Viera, four as the head coach and four as the Hawks’ defensive coordinator.
As the head coach, he compiled a record of 26-17 that included three district championships and two trips to the regional semifinals. As defensive coordinator under childhood friend Kevin Mays, Smith helped the Hawks reach the 2015 state championship game.
The decision to leave can be attributed to several factors.
“Brevard County coaches, it’s not coincidental that all of us are Brevard County guys,” Smith said. “We went to high school in Brevard County. We wanted to bring back to the places we grew up in the opportunity to coach and do well.
“But Georgia, financially, pays their teachers better than Brevard County does. So, from a retirement standpoint, (we would) have an opportunity to live well after retirement.”
Smith’s wife, Christina, who is certified in Exceptional Education, will be supporting students with disabilities. She will be teaching at Sandy Creek High School in nearby Tyrone, Georgia.
The teaching environment, which includes smaller class sizes, was a big attraction. But so were the athletic facilities that are far superior to what Brevard County has to offer.
“There’s a significant coaching difference when it comes to (coaching) supplements,” Smith said. “So, you’re getting paid significantly more and the facilities are out of this world.
“Georgia puts a lot of money into their after-school activities, their after-school facilities. We’ve got the rubber tracks; the nicer stadiums; the turf fields; video boards; weight rooms with all the proper equipment; large wrestling rooms; large auditoriums … all the stuff you would expect to attract after-school activity at the highest level.
“And that’s not just McIntosh. We’re traveling to other schools to look and that’s the commonality of Georgia. As a whole, the facilities around this area are phenomenal.”
Smith, who believes Brevard County needs to invest more in its athletic facilities and coach’s salaries, said the decision to leave the place where he grew up was not easy.
After all, he attended Stone Middle School and Palm Bay High School, where he played football, baseball and basketball. Smith played football at Chowan University, then returned to Palm Bay High as an assistant coach, helping the Pirates win two state titles. He took over as Bayside’s head coach from 2009-2012 with Mays – who was also on the Palm Bay staff – serving as an assistant.
Mays took over a Viera program that was at the bottom of the county and helped build it into a powerhouse with the help of Smith and a number of top-notch assistants. Mays left after the 2017 season and Smith continued to keep the Hawks among the county’s top programs.
“The hard part of my decision is obviously the family connections I’ve made in Brevard County, and I’m going to say Brevard County, not just Viera,” Smith said. “It’s Brevard County – the connections I’ve got with the coaches, people I’ve grown up around and spent time with.
“It’s an insanely tough decision to make knowing that I’ve got a son (Austin) that’s a half-a-semester from graduating. It wasn’t easy when it came to my two kids. Not at all.
“That part made it difficult no doubt. Other than that, when it came to a decision on the better half of retirement in the future and work environment and all the other things – the facilities – it was a no-brainer. It was the easiest decision of my life, to be honest. I didn’t like leaving the Viera kids. … It’s not about coaching a sport, it’s about developing a family. Obviously, separating from that family you’re developing is not easy.”
Austin Smith, who is a standout lacrosse player, has decided to move to Peachtree City with his parents and finish out his high school career at McIntosh rather than stay in Viera for the rest of his senior season.
Viera High School athletic director Maggie Davis wished Smith well as she embarks on a search to find a new football coach for the Hawks.
“This is definitely a huge loss for Viera, one hundred percent,” Davis said. “He was part of the foundation of what truly made this football program. Even though we all look and we see so much success and Kevin Mays, we can’t forget the people that were underneath him. Those coordinators and all those other people are what made us so successful.
“It gives me goosebumps knowing we’re losing a piece of that puzzle. But people have to do what’s best for them. Viera High School and (principal Sarah) Robinson … she’s always been very clear she’s going to support you and doing what’s best for you and your family.
“This such a great opportunity. If you can be a head coach in Georgia, that really says a lot about you as a coach. We’re very excited for him. I know he’s going to turn that program around. Just like he did a Viera High School, he’s going to do great there. He left such a good (building) blocks and a foundation here that any coach that comes in here is going to have a great place to start.”
McIntosh High School’s football team went 2-8 last season and will be looking at Smith to turn the program’s fortunes around.
Smith said not only are all the pieces there, but it reminds him somewhat of the situation Viera once found itself dealing with.
“It’s a school that needs energizing,” he said. “They’ve got facilities. They’ve got players. It’s South Georgia football … just needs energizing. The demographics are going to remind you of Viera. Peachtree City is Viera on steroids.”
Smith, who always talked about developing his players as young men and not just football players, will certainly be missed by the Hawks.
“Coach Smith has been a coach of mine for a long time,” senior linebacker Johnny Eaton wrote in a Twitter message.
“He’s been a huge reason for my success on the field. He used to let me and Austin come workout with the team every summer since I was in sixth grade. He’s taught me most of what I know and practice now. I’m happy he gets this great opportunity to coach but I’m definitely going to miss him.”
Senior quarterback C.J. Simms echoed those thoughts.
“Coach smith means a lot to me,” Simms wrote in a Twitter message. “He’s been my head coach since eighth grade and has really helped develop me on and off the field.
“He’s always helped me stay focused and on track with my goals. He’s also helped me a lot in the mental side of the game, helping me break down defenses and understand how they work.
“I am kind of sad to say goodbye to the big fella, but at the same time I’m very happy for him for getting and taking this new opportunity and wish him and his new team the best.”
Smith will miss his players, too. And as for his time at Viera, he had nothing but good things to say.
“I enjoyed every minute of it, no questions asked,” Smith said. “Every person that’s been part of the booster club has been wonderful to work with. The players over the last eight years, every one of them have been great young men to be around and coach. The administration, Ms. Robinson, is a wonderful person to be around.
“It’s just time. There’s no other way to say it. It’s just time.”