Smelley to be honored as the 2014 NAIA Coach of Character

Submitted by: Ron Smith - September 15th, 2014


Track & Field and Cross Country Head Coach Russell Smelley received the 2014 NAIA Coach of Character Award.

Track & Field and Cross Country Head Coach Russell Smelley received the 2014 NAIA Coach of Character Award.

Westmont’s Russell Smelley has been honored by the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) with its 2014 Coach of Character Award. Smelley is in his 36th year as head coach for Westmont’s track and field and cross country teams.

“What I personally appreciate about Coach Smelley is his consistent pursuit of excellence without compromising the character values he makes the priority of his coaching philosophy,” said Westmont athletic director Dave Odell. “He is a fantastic example of how to be competitive and achieve success in athletics while remaining unwavering in a commitment to teach character and being a role model for both student athletes and coaches alike.

“In my 30 year history with the NAIA, I cannot think of a more deserving candidate for this honor,” continued Odell. “Coach Smelley is deeply imbedded in the fabric of all that is great about the NAIA. He was a champion of character before the term became a part of our culture.”

Asked what the award means to him, Smelley replied, “I hope that it reflects a growing faith and living out a faith in Jesus Christ.

“Character is a reflection of who we really are,” espoused Smelley. “Student-athletes need to learn to establish who they are over what they do, and they need to be loved for who they are, not what they do. If I can establish that in myself and then teach it, present it and live it, then they have an example that it is achievable.”

“I believe it was always Russell’s primary goal to discover his athletes as people first,” said former student-athlete Kimber (Tolar) Thomson (’01). “Russell took the risk to put character development before athletic development. He was always willing to invest the time, and demonstrate the patience, to develop teenagers into young adults.

“Looking back, many of the issues that seemed so major to me back then must have seemed so small to Russell, yet he never downplayed our problems, never made us feel insignificant. Instead, he used every situation as a learning moment.”

A passion of Smelley’s has been the continuing development of a coaching philosophy that guides his work with student-athletes.

“My good friend Jim Crakes told me that it takes about 15 years before you have something to say and a coaching philosophy,” said Smelley, “and he was right. Somewhere over the last 30 years I started talking about it and presenting about it. It feels like it has been a building, cumulative, reviewing and growing attempt.”

Over the past few years, Smelley has had the opportunity to take his message of character development through sports to an international audience. In August of 2012, Smelley was invited to speak at the Global Coaches House during the London Olympics. A year later, Smelley travelled to Durban, South Africa to present his message to the International Council for Coaching Excellence. In the spring of 2014, Smelley spoke on Reflections on Sports in America and the Development of Character through Sports at a conference in Hawaii.

While these opportunities afford Smelley an opportunity to encourage character development on a global scale, his heart is with his student-athletes.

“I have had numerous conversations with students who have appreciated being under his leadership,” said Chris Milner, the kinesiology department chair at Westmont and a colleague of Smelley’s for 35 years. “I have found Russell to be a warm, caring individual with the heart of a servant. He is the kind of coach who will go the extra mile for a colleague or student, often at personal cost. He can be found in his office after hours working with athletes on their life goals or helping them with a personal concern. He truly cares for the individual, not just the athlete.”

Smelley will receive the character award at the NAIA National Convention in April of 2015, which will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“I think I might go pick up my mom (in Richmond, Virginia) and take her along so she can share in it,” said Smelley. “I think she might enjoy that.”

NOTE: The NAIA Coach of Character Award was announced on the NAIA 2014 National Awards Day video, which can be viewed at: