‘Feels like home’ – RCS names head baseball coach
Play ball! At their meeting Tuesday, members of the Russellville City Schools Board of Education hired Jess Smith to be the new head baseball coach for Russellville High School.
Smith will be replacing head baseball coach Chris Heaps, who will officially retire Aug. 1 after leading the Golden Tigers since 2012.
Smith is coming to Russellville from Scottsboro High School, where he has served as the head baseball coach since 2020; however, Smith isn’t unfamiliar to Russellville. Smith served as an assistant coach under Heaps from 2017-2019 when the Golden Tigers were state champions in 2017 and state runners-up in 2018.
“Coach Smith was with us for three years in Coach Heaps’ program, and he was very impressed by him,” said RCS Superintendent Dr. Heath Grimes. “He has also taken a very unattended 6A program and, in three years, has them in a competitive play-off position.
“It’s our belief that Coach Smith is going to be one of Alabama’s next great baseball coaches, and we want him to be leading our program as he does that,” Grimes added. “He has coached with our coaches, he’s coached under Coach Heaps, he has three years of successful 6A head coaching experience, and he’s coached many of the guys on the team when they were younger.
“He loves Russellville and wants to be here. He has a strong belief that he and his team can and will continue the success RHS has enjoyed.”
Grimes said although many great coaches never reach their potential because they don’t have the resources, talent, facilities, support and mentoring they need to truly reach that potential, “we believe Coach Smith is and will be known as one of Alabama’s best, and we have the community support, talent, resources, facilities and a coaching and administrative team that will provide the support he needs to reach that achievement.”
Smith said he is humbled to be chosen for what he considers to be the best baseball coaching job in the state.
“This is absolutely a dream job for me to be stepping into the head coaching position in a program as great as Russellville’s is,” Smith said. “Being an assistant coach at Russellville was my first coaching job out of college, and it was an incredible experience. I was able to learn under Coach Heaps, and it not only made me a better coach, it made me a better man. I am honored to follow in his footsteps and continue what he started here at Russellville.”
While serving as the head baseball coach at Scottsboro, Smith achieved a 42-36 overall record and led the team to become the 2022 6A Area Champions – the first 6A area championship in school history. He also led the team to the first 6A playoff appearance in school history.
This past season, Scottsboro’s baseball team had the first First Team All-State player in school history, and Smith also helped eight players go on to play at the collegiate level.
Smith is a native of Fort Payne and graduated from Fort Payne High School in 2012. He attended Central Alabama Community College from 2012-2014, where he played baseball and was part of the CACC’s Junior College National Championship team in 2013.
He transferred to the University of North Alabama in 2014 and graduated in 2016 with a degree in secondary education and social sciences.
“I learned during my first coaching experience at Russellville what an amazing place this is,” Smith said. “You’d hear about ‘bleeding black and gold’ and all the tradition, and it really does just get in your veins and become part of you.
“It was hard to leave in 2019, and I’d always hoped I’d be able to come back one day to lead this program, so this really is a dream come true for me. I’m coming back to a place that feels like home, and I’m beyond excited to be part of this program and part of this community again.”