The football coaching partnership between Bill Smith and Neil Lomax has moved to familiar turf.
In 2018, Lomax coaxed Smith out of retirement to assist him at Fort Vancouver. Now Smith, recently hired as the coach at Cleveland, has brought aboard Lomax, who last month stepped down after two seasons as the Trappers' coach.
Smith and Lomax know their way around the Portland Interscholastic League. Smith graduated from Grant in 1979 and coached at Madison for 14 seasons, including a four-year stint as head coach (1997-2000). Lomax assisted for nine seasons at Roosevelt before taking his first head coaching job at Fort Vancouver.
Smith – who left coaching after a 15-year run at Century (2002-16), where he went 60-89 – is tasked with taking over a Cleveland team that has won a combined 15 games in the last seven seasons. The Warriors went 4-4 in 2019 in their only season under coach Ken Duilio.
“It's not something I was expecting to do, but I'm doing it, and I'm kind of excited about it,” Smith said.
Smith was retired from coaching and teaching in 2017 when he received a call from Duane Stutzman, the principal at 1A Southwest Christian in Beaverton, to offer a teaching job. Smith is in his fourth year of teaching at Southwest Christian, where his wife Christie also teaches and their children attend.
Lomax, the former Portland State and NFL quarterback, contacted Smith in 2018 to ask for his help at Fort Vancouver. The Trappers went 0-9 in 2018 and 1-8 in 2019, posting their first win in three years.
“Neil asked if I would go on a mission with him,” said Smith, who was the defensive coordinator at Fort Vancouver. “Neil's an incredible guy. I'll tell you what, he poured his heart and soul into that program. It was quite challenging, but when I look back, we had a lot of fun, and we had some good things happen.”
Smith, 59, said he was contacted by PIL assistant athletic director Jeff Peeler to gauge his interest in the Cleveland job. He wasn't interested at first, but after talking with Duilio and Cleveland athletic director Kellie Cook – as well as longtime Oregon high school football coach Craig Ruecker, recently hired by the PIL as a consultant – he came around.
“Part of it has to do with my faith,” Smith said. “My wife says the Bible doesn't talk about retiring. I definitely felt like it was time for a change.
“When they first talked to me about applying at Cleveland, I really didn't want to. I live in Aloha-Hillsboro, and I didn't want to drive in. But I've completely done a 180 since then. I love coaching football. I love being on the field, and I'm surrounded by some pretty exceptional people.”
Smith was hired two months ago and conducted two weeks of workouts before being shut down. Lomax joined him as the team's quarterbacks coach after resigning from Fort Vancouver in December, telling ClarkCountyToday.com the commute from his Wilsonville home took a toll.
“The distance caught up to me,” Lomax said. “I wanted to be there more. I just can’t.”
Bolstering turnout is a priority with the Warriors. Smith said 16 players attended the first workout, but that number increased into the mid-20s before the shutdown.
“The numbers aren't good,” Smith said. “But Neil and I went to Fort Vancouver not to win championships but to just be a light, to do the right thing. I kind of feel like that's what we're doing at Cleveland. I've met some really neat people. I've been very impressed. I really enjoy the Cleveland kids. They're a lot of fun to be around.”
Smith went 17-20 in four seasons as the coach at Madison, including a 6-3 mark in 1999. In 2008, he led Century to a 10-2 record and 5A quarterfinal appearance. In 2012, the Jaguars went 8-3 and made the second round of the 6A playoffs.
Will Smith be able to run some of the same schemes he installed at Century, where the Jaguars were known for their pistol offense?
“There's a difference going to the PIL from the Metro,” Smith said. “The suburban schools, football is a year-round deal. We'll do what the athletes allow us to do, and right now we're very short on numbers.
“If we can get some more athletes out, then we can do some more things. We were one of the first teams to run the pistol, and that was just a lot of fun. You get the basketball players out, and you air it out. I hope we can do that at Cleveland, but it depends on what we get.”
The Cleveland staff will have Century connections. Matt Loun, the offensive coordinator under Smith, has come aboard, as has former Century players Brennan Howell and Tristan Howell.
The addition of Lomax, though, is especially key. At Roosevelt, he was instrumental in the Roughriders going from winless in 2008 and 2009 to 9-2 in 2013.
“He is charismatic,” Smith said. “When he starts talking, I stand back and listen because the guy is such a wealth of information. I don't know if kids realize how much football a guy like that knows.
“That's one thing I miss about Fort Vancouver are the bus rides. We'd just talk football, and when he would share some of the stuff that went on in the pros, it just makes you smile.”