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The Trojan Becomes an Owl: A Smart(t) Move

Since 2011, the name Taylor Smartt has been associated with Troy softball. First as a player, then as a volunteer assistant and full-time assistant coach, then as an interim head coach during the 2022 season; Smartt held nearly every role possible at her alma mater.


Smartt’s resume, even her accent, leave no doubt of her Alabama roots. Born in Meridian, Mississippi – it was the closest hospital to her family’s Livingston, Alabama home at the time – she’s never lived outside the Cotton State.


Until this summer, that is.


In mid-July, Smartt was announced as the new assistant coach at FAU. From the outside looking in, it might seem like a random move. For Smartt, though, it’s just the next step in a career that has progressively worked its way up the ladder.


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Call her TSmartt, maybe even Coach T, but not Coach Smartt. That title is already taken, three times over.


Sports and coaching run in the Smartt family. Dad, Mark, coached college baseball for decades, culminating in a 6-year stint as head coach at Troy. Mom, Debbie, has spent decades of her own as a middle school PE teacher and volleyball coach. Brother, Chase, was drafted out of high school by the Atlanta Braves, but chose to play in college and now coaches high school baseball.


After her playing career at Troy ended in 2014, Smartt knew she wanted to follow a coaching path herself. Growing up as a coach’s kid, she said, influenced her in innumerable ways toward the profession, even as coach Dad himself cautioned her against it.

“My dad actually told me not to coach,” Smartt recalled with a laugh.

But if a college coaching path was to be hers, Smartt knew she would have to “pay her dues”. After college, she began to explore what options might be out there for a young coach wanting to get her feet wet in the industry. As things turned out, one option would not even require her to swap out her Trojans maroon.


When Beth Mullins was hired as Troy’s head coach, the position of volunteer assistant coach was vacant on her inaugural staff. Fresh off her playing days leading the Trojan infield, enter Smartt. She took the role and officially began her career as a college coach.

“Being at your alma mater is one of the coolest things,” Smartt surmised. “When I would talk to a recruit or we’d have someone on campus, there’s just something about talking about the place you yourself went to school. It’s easy to sell.”

One year later, she was promoted to a full-time position on the staff under Mullins and would go on to spend the next six seasons in that role. Ahead of the 2022 campaign, when Mullins stepped aside for personal reasons, Smartt and 3rd-year assistant Holly Ward were promoted to co-interim head coach titles.


At the season-opening press conference, it was Smartt in the hot seat. She gave insight into Mullins’ departure – a move that would become permanent midway through the season – and previewed the team’s preparation as well as her own coaching methods and style. Even as nerves abounded, she held her own and set the stage for the Trojans’ campaign to come.


The Trojans went on to a 4th-place finish in the Sun Belt regular season standings, crossing the 30-win plateau for the fourth consecutive full season. Smartt’s defense posted a .975 fielding percentage as a unit, with two players posting perfect 1.000 fielding percentages and another three who made just one defensive error each.


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Spend a few minutes talking to Smartt and one trait that will show itself quickly is her seemingly-unending energy. She is passionate about life and about softball, but there’s undoubtedly more to the Taylor Smartt picture than just the game with the neon yellow ball.


In the second grade, Smartt took part in a beauty pageant. A new experience at the time, it was also a one-time affair; asked her favorite TV show in an on-stage question, Smartt’s reply was “WWF Wrestling”.


Debbie Smartt was mortified. Taylor? She was just being honest.


Always intending on a career in college athletics, coaching wasn’t the first potential career path for Smartt. “I initially went into college wanting to be an athletic trainer,” Smartt said. There was just one problem: “I don’t like blood, so I was done with that after a year,” she added with a laugh.


From then on, a path into coaching was the sole plan.


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The Taylor Smartt story has a lot of pieces, but perhaps none as important as her drive to coach and the faith that drives her on a daily basis.


“I’m super competitive; I don’t like to lose,” Smartt admitted. Growing up and even into her college playing career, that competitiveness showed out at all turns. “When I was the coach’s kid, [the players] never took it easy on me in competitions. I had to work to win. To this day, I’ve never won a family game of Monopoly!”


Now, as a coach, that competitiveness is still around – during a game of kickball during the 2021 season, she laid out for a diving catch and wowed the Troy players – but the love of competing isn’t what truly drives Smartt to do what she does.

“Why I do it is to impact athletes,” Smartt said. “Relating to athletes is important; they want to know and I want them to know that I care about them as a person first. Genuinely… there are always going to be a lot of crayons that have to fit into one box. You shouldn’t have to change who you are to fit in.”

Staunch competitiveness and endless energy are the easy descriptors for Smartt, but if she got to choose, her faith would be at the top of that list.

“[My] faith is the main thing that influences everything I do,” Smartt noted. “How I handle things and the times I have to trust God, that shows to other people… God has put people in my life that I didn’t even realize I needed at the time.”“I don’t put my faith up into anyone’s face,” she added. “Making someone pay attention to or do something just pushes them away. [What I realized] is that ultimately, if I’m going to interact with anyone, I want them to see God in me.”

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Smartt’s move to Boca Raton – to “Paradise”, both figuratively and perhaps literally – will see her get to expand some horizons from the outset. She’ll work with the Owls defense and put in some reps with the team’s hitters, as well.


A rapport with her new boss, first-year head coach Jordan Clark, is already there. Pitching coach Nicole Newman will tower over her fellow staff members in height, but the group is meshing together well even in their first weeks as a unit.


Looking back over her coaching career to this point and laying out what she hopes to be in her future, Smartt referred back to a number of players that she’s coached and one of the qualities that she’s noticed often along the way:

“One thing that I love about [my job] is how athletes are really good at the monotony of the little things,” Smartt said. “They’re uncommon in that they don’t get bored with that… the monotony doesn’t push them away from wanting to do it. Doing the little things over and over again and doing whatever it takes is what separates people who want to be great.”

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