Florence has new head coaches for its baseball and softball programs.
Former assistant J.R. Myers has been promoted to head baseball coach, and John Smith has left Belgreen to become the new head softball coach at Florence. Those changes became official Tuesday.
• Myers replaces Steve Garrett, for whom he worked as an assistant for four years. Myers, 31, has been coaching Florence’s junior varsity. He knows all the current players on the team, and athletic director Byron Graham said several vouched for him.
“He fills a lot of relationship components,” Graham said, noting he always asks himself when hiring a coach “Will the kids want to play for him?”
“They seemed like they wanted to play for him.”
Myers, who was one of about 30 applicants, said he was going to apply for the job anyway but was touched that several parents and players texted him to say he should go for it.
“It makes you want to go out there and fight even harder for them,” Myers said.
Myers graduated from Prattville High, where he played shortstop. He went on to North Florida Community College and Troy, and he was primarily a third baseman in college.
Myers still needs to hire a pitching coach and finalize the staff. He and Russ Robbins are handling the program right now.
“It’s unreal to be honest with you. Nine years ago I never really saw myself in this situation,” Myers said. “You couldn’t ask for a better situation.”
Myers takes over a Florence team that finished second to state runner-up Bob Jones in Class 7A, Area 8 — earning a playoff spot — and swept Huntsville in the first round before falling to Hewitt-Trussville in a competitive second round series.
LSU commit Grant Taylor and South Alabama commit Cade Henry — both starting pitchers — are two key returners among many for Florence, and Myers said one way to make the team better will be to hit more consistently than the Falcons have lately.
He expects the area to be a challenge again, as Bob Jones will be motivated to win a state championship after coming so close and Austin and James Clemens will be motivated to make the playoffs. Florence beat Austin in the season’s final series to claim the area’s second playoff spot.
“We can’t sit there like we’re the big bad wolf,” Myers said. “Everyone around the area, they’re just going to rebuild for next year.”
Myers has also been an assistant coach for the football team, and Graham — who likes when kids are multi-sport athletes — was pleased to see Myers encourage a few baseball players to play football again or try it for the first time. Nate Reed was one of those and eventually signed to play football for UNA.
• Smith, 63, has been a high school coach for more than three decades at several schools and returns to his hometown of Florence. He replaces Brian Shollenberger, who coached Florence softball since the school formed from consolidation.
Smith thanked Dr. Jimmy Shaw, Dr. Roderick Sheppard, Graham and the school board for the opportunity and joked he wouldn’t sleep Wednesday night because he is so excited for his first practice with the Falcons today.
“It kind of seemed like a good challenge for me at a good point in my life,” Smith said.
Smith led the 2019 Belgreen team to fourth place in the Class 1A state tournament. He previously won four Class 2A state championships at Hatton, and his earlier coaching stops in Alabama include Auburn High, Coffee, East Lawrence and Russellville.
“His resume shows he’s a proven winner,” Graham said.
Graham said Smith visited him in his office recently and said “I’d really like to have a shot at this job.” Graham said that one-minute conversation is not why Smith was hired, but his willingness to meet face to face stood out.
“He’s old school, and that’s how old-school people do it,” Graham said of Smith.
Smith said when he was 10, his father left him, his four younger siblings and their mother, and Coffee’s coaches became role models.
“They were the ones that got me thinking maybe I can be a coach and make a difference for someone,” Smith said.
Florence softball did not advance out of the area tournament in its debut 7A season, and Smith said one key to long-term success will be developing a program for 7th and 8th graders. (Florence also plans to re-establish its middle school baseball program.)
“We want to be a team of hard-working players that enjoy the game and go out and compete every game,” Smith said.
Smith will preach the importance of a good attitude, and he said some of his best teams used their cohesion to beat opponents with more raw talent.
“I think he’s going to give our kids that new energy, new life,” Graham said.
Smith expects good things foe the team he’s leaving, as Belgreen returns nine players — seven of them starters — and he noted the program is well-supported.
“Whoever gets that program is going to be blessed. They’re not going to be hurting,” Smith said. (Florence) was home, and this was an opportunity I just could not pass up.”