Westmont’s Russell Smelley coaches with Character

Westmont's faculty member and athletics coach Russell Smelley

Russell Smelley, a faculty member and athletics coach at Westmont College. (Randy Weiss Photo)

As a young boy, his dream was to teach history and coach back home in Prince George County, Virginia …

He later studied English and physical education and ran cross-country and track and field for the University of Richmond …

After graduation, he was enticed to stay and pursue his Master’s degree in education and coach the school’s first-ever women’s track and field team….

And a teaching and coaching offer from Westmont College brought Russell Carleton Smelley to Santa Barbara in 1979, after an Achilles injury curtailed his running career.

Now in his 36th year as a kinesiology professor and track & field and cross-country coach for the Westmont Warriors’ men’s and women’s teams — he’s vaulted these programs to great heights.

But more than anything else, Coach Smelley has nurtured many young lives and is now being lauded for his leadership commitment to integrity in sports and for his personal priority of character development of student-athletes.

He’ll soon receive the prestigious 2014 Coach of Character Award from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).


This award is made possible by American Riviera Bank

This award is made possible by American Riviera Bank

Each Month, Presidio Sports recognizes a local sports figure
for their extraordinary contribution to the Santa Barbara
athletic community. It is our way to recognize those who
are making a lasting impact in our sports community,
whether it is an inspirational athletic performance,
a lifetime achievement award, or perhaps a great
example of leadership.

“Coach Smelley is a fantastic example of how to be competitive and achieve success in athletics on the field while remaining unwavering in a commitment to teaching character and being a role model for both student athletes and coaches alike,” wrote Dave Odell, Westmont AD in his NAIA nomination bid.

NAIA COACH OF CHARACTER AWARD: An annual honor given to a head coach of an NAIA institution who has been outstanding in embracing the five core values of the NAIA Champions of Character initiative, using methods of teaching character through sport, and in community leadership through volunteering or service.

“Coach not only sets high standards for performance, training and day-to-day behavior for his athletes, but also ‘sets the bar high’ in community consciousness,” adds Laurie Leighty, Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table president. “He is a role model for all of us in living life with integrity and commitment.”

Read Coach Smelley’s “Philosophy of Coaching” HERE

Coach Smelley oversees the track & field program and facilities at Westmont College.

Coach Smelley oversees the track & field program and facilities at Westmont College.

Setting high standards starts with family …

“My dad is the person I most admire and respect,” says Coach. “He was very honest, honorable and straight forward.”

He’s shaped his coaching philosophy from special people like Bill Jordan, his first professional mentor and from his Westmont teams, primarily over the first 15 years.

Jim Crakes, Pt. Loma Coach at the time (now age 86 and retired in San Diego) — took this young Westmont coach under his wing – they’ve been good friends ever since.

“The Award is a nice affirmation and commendation to Westmont for their generosity and letting me learn and to grow as a person,” Coach Smelley says.

A family photo taken in 2004.

A family photo taken in 2004, with wife Allison, daughter Alyssa, and son Travis.

Special kudos go to his wife….

“I give credit to Allison for walking with me in my personal growth and serving as a strong center for doing what is right,” he shares. “She listens to all my frustrations and concerns. She gives the steady and gentle feedback and let’s me make the choices. She is an essential help in my growth for which I am grateful.”

Together, they have also endured some incredibly challenging times — the loss of their dear 15-year-old daughter, Alyssa, to a brain tumor in 2006 and losing their home in the 2008 Montecito Tea Fire. Allison had breast cancer in between.

“What I share with my classes and teams is that we survived and thrived with the loving community that surrounds us,” Coach says.

“What an example he is for our athletes, and for all of us,” adds Odell. “It’s always ‘character based’ and he always wants to grow to be better in his faith and in the mentoring of young people.”

Smelley has been asked to share his coaching and character philosophy — he’s led special seminars at the London Olympics … in South Africa … and Honolulu.

“And his presence in our community demonstrates how much positive influence a coach can have outside of practice or on the field of play,” says Joe Howell, Santa Barbara community leader. “Russell Smelley is a local coaching icon and the NAIA could not have selected a more deserving person to be named as the 2014 Coach of Character.”

“For decades, Coach Smelley has always been there to help and support our community youth and masters track and field and running programs,” adds Kevin Young of Club West. “He does it with an aura of decency, compassion and sharing. I’ve always respected Coach Smelley as an inspirational and good man. “

One “insider” summed it up best …

“Russell has a remarkable ability to challenge and support his student athletes. He is unusual in his love, dedication and devotion to their health and well-being. He is a devoted husband, father and friend. I count him as one of the finest human beings I have ever known,” says Gayle D. Beebe, President, Westmont College.

Our 2014 NAIA Coach of Character Honoree — and newest Sports Figure of the Month — may be far from his native Virginia, but it’s safe to say that Russell Carleton Smelley is now deeply rooted right here at home … in Santa Barbara.