NW's Smith making a difference
Not many coaches, especially in the high school ranks can say they've been coaching at the same school for 31 years.
One man however that can say that is Northwestern baseball coach Len Smith.
Smith has been the head man for the Tigers for a remarkable 31 seasons and this season the coach is doing something he's never done before in his career. Smith is now coaching one of his former players sons.
The long time coach is currently coaching freshman Brady Mengel, who's father Jason Mengel also played for Smith. Brady has been hitting in the nine hole for the Tigers all season and successfully at that. The fact that Smith is coaching two generations of Mengel baseball players is certainly a testament to the time he has dedicated to the Northwestern baseball program.
"I don't know if this is one for the record books, but it certainly means I've been around a long time, maybe too long," said Smith. "All joking aside it's been great to be coaching this long, especially because for the most part we've had great kids come through our program. Brady is no exception to that. We haven't really played freshman all that much, but in the last couple years there has been some kids that have been good enough to play. Brady is a nice player and has been playing well for us all season."
"His father Jason was a very smart baseball player and you can see that in the way Brady plays. Brady just knows the game, especially defensively and it's nice to have a quality kid like that on your roster."
Just because Smith may be near the end of his career doesn't mean he has taken his foot off the gas pedal. This season will mark the eighth straight season where Northwestern has qualified for district playoffs. However, Smith noted that the game has changed some over the years and to be a coach now at the high school level requires more teaching than ever before.
"With all the distractions and different activities for kids to do these days, there's just a lack of basic knowledge of the game," said Smith. "Also, at a small school Northwestern your best players or athletes play multiple sports, so nobody really specializes in one sport anymore. So, it comes down to teaching the fundamentals a lot and going over the basics a lot. We work on fundamentals almost every day in some way and I think that's been a reason for our success over the years."
With most coaches that remain at a school for an extended period of time, Smith has some pretty good reasons for staying with the Tigers for so many years.
"First off, we have just had good kids here," said Smith. "They've always cooperated well and they've been very coachable. Secondly, the administration has been great and very supportive to our staff now and in the past. We've had some really good athletic directors here in the past and presently we have a great AD. Lastly, I've had some incredible assistant coaches. A head coach is only as good as his/her assistants and I've had some good ones."
Smith was also part of the famous Bob Mitchell football staff, coaching 35 years for the football team. Needless to say, Smith has been a staple in the Northwestern sports community for the past 30 plus years.
"This is a great area with great people," said Smith. "It's been a pleasure to coach at Northwestern over the years."