Former Ripley star and head coach becomes football leader at Winfield

Mark Martin
Special to Jackson Newspapers

When Eddie Smolder married Brooke Bailey, he inherited a family with a strong athletic background.

It was indeed a match made in Heaven for Smolder.

After all, he had been involved with sports for as long as he could remember growing up in Ripley.

Smolder evolved into a football standout for the Viking program of the late Frank Marino.

As a senior in 1997, Smolder earned Class AAA First Team All-State as a linebacker.

His football talent took him to Marshall, where he met the beautiful Bailey, who was a member of the school’s dance team.

As he started to become closer to Bailey and get to know her family, Smolder, who had a strong desire to one day serve as a football coach and leader of young men, was blessed to encounter not one, but two individuals in her family who have left a lasting impact.

His wife’s father, David, has built Winfield into one of the strongest track and field programs in the state of West Virginia. While Bailey is the head girls coach, he also assists with the boys teams as well.

The programs have won well over 20 state titles since Bailey has been involved.

The track and field complex at the high school’s Generals Stadium is named in his honor.

In addition to Bailey, Smolder got to know his then future wife's late grandfather, Leon McCoy, up close and personal.

During his time at the school, McCoy was the architect for Winfield football, which became a state power. The school won two state championships in 1985 and 1987 under his guidance. He served two different stints as the school’s head football coach, first starting in the late ‘50s and then returning in the late ‘60s.

McCoy, who played college football at Tennessee and Morris Harvey (now the University of Charleston), where he was an All-American, produced a coaching record of 213-68-1. He also was a head coach at Charleston High and a school in Florida.

But it is Winfield where he made a name for himself.

McCoy had seven teams go undefeated.

Since only two teams made the playoffs back in the day (until 1972), his undefeated teams of 1970 and 1971 didn’t reach the postseason.

In addition to his title winners, four other McCoy-coached Winfield teams played for state championships, losing by a combined 10 points.

His 1958 squad lost to Meadow Bridge. His 1959 squad was beaten by Ravenswood of the late Jim Spano, 15-13. It is one of four titles for Ravenswood. (Also, his General squad of 1976 lost a playoff game at Ripley to Fred Taylor’s Ravenswood Red Devils. The Devils went on to claim the Class AA state championship.)

His 1969 team, the season he returned to WHS, was beaten by Keyser, 21-20. His 1988 squad fell in an epic four-overtime affair to Bridgeport.

There’s no question, McCoy had established something at the school when he left the first time as Winfield won three state titles in 1960, 1961 and 1963.

McCoy was a household name not only in West Virginia, but beyond. Not just for what he did as a football coach but in the world of weight training. Besides high school coaches, those leading major college programs reached out to McCoy about his methods for getting his teams stronger and conditioned for the great game of football.

Mostly, McCoy was simply an inspiration to young men and women like no other.

The football program McCoy was so proudly in charge of for many years is now in the hands of Smolder.

The former Viking, who later served as Ripley’s head football coach for five years, was recently hired by the Putnam County Board of Education as Winfield’s newest football leader.

After leaving Ripley following the 2018 season, Smolder has spent the past few years teaching at Winfield and serving as an assistant to one-time Ravenswood great Luke Salmons at Class AAA Cabell Midland.

Eddie Smolder (right) was a football assistant at Cabell Midland with head football coach Luke Salmons (left). Smolder said, "... It was bittersweet leaving there and not being around my buddy each day.” The two, pictured at the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission office for a Sunday playoff meeting, were football teammates at Marshall.

Now he is back running his own program and couldn’t be happier to be doing it at Winfield.

“This one kind of ties football and family together,” Smolder said. “My wife is from here. I’m real excited and feel really blessed. My father-in-law has coached here and been highly successful. And then there is Coach McCoy.

“He is my wife’s grandpa and was my number one coaching confidant. He became another grandpa and just helped me so much.

“When I took the job at Ripley, he came over to help me out. Besides my dad (Ed), there’s no one I’ve looked up to any more than Coach McCoy. I learned a lot from him. It means so much to take over the program. The stuff he did here, I just feel humbled that Putnam County wants me.”

As Smolder spoke of his new position, he was busy painting the weight room. A facility named in honor of McCoy, who died in 2017 at the age of 88.

McCoy’s love and devotion for weight training certainly played a part in leading to Winfield’s success on the field. He was ahead of his time when it came to offseason training.

A devout Christian, McCoy led his young men by example in so many ways.

He religiously got up each morning while most people were still sleeping to lift weights, run, swim and do devotions.

Smolder has tried to follow in McCoy’s footsteps in so many ways.

“I’m a faith, family and football guy,” he said.

When he stepped away from Ripley’s program following the 2018 campaign it came with a lot of hesitation. No one bled blue and white more than Smolder. But at the time, he felt it was the right thing to do. He had worked tirelessly at making Ripley football a winner.

He feels honored to have served his alma mater in that capacity as head coach.

“It was really neat and I really enjoyed my time at Ripley. We turned it around. We got to host and win a playoff game,” he said.

The Vikings made the postseason just once, but Smolder had three other teams knocking on the door of the playoffs in the brutally tough Class AAA ranks.

“When I left Ripley, I was a little in limbo,” Smolder said. “I needed a break (as a head coach). Luke and I are best friends. I looked at some other opportunities. It was no greater time than to go and coach with Luke.”

Midland, like all schools in West Virginia, dealt with the COVID-19 issues in 2020. The Knights finished undefeated but had their hopes at a successful playoff run wiped out due to the virus.

This season, Midland reached the semifinal round of Class AAA.

Midland has been to two state championship games under Salmons.

“I learned a lot from Luke. It was a lot of fun,” Smolder said of the Cabell Midland experience. “We had a lot of success. It was bittersweet leaving there and not being around my buddy each day.”

But Smolder is back doing what he loves most … being a head coach.

Before coming to Ripley, Smolder worked four years as the head football coach at Sissonville and guided the Indians to the playoffs twice.

“We are very hungry to get going,” said Smolder. “We want to build a great program. We want to introduce these kids to our culture. And we certainly want to get them bigger, faster and stronger.”

When Smolder was at Ripley, his father worked as the offensive line coach for the Vikings. He has remained with current head coach Steve Sayre the past two years and will continue in that role.

“We talked about it (of his father joining him at Winfield),” said Smolder. “But it’s a bit of a drive. He loves the farm. His life is still there.”

Ed Smolder was a standout player at Charleston Catholic in the ‘70s. He went on to the University of Kentucky where he was a standout lineman. After college, he moved to Jackson County and has been here ever since.

While Eddie Smolder has moved on professionally from the land of the Vikings, the school and town both hold a special place in his heart.

“I still love Ripley,” he said. “It will always be home to me.”

Now, he wants Winfield to be the best it can be.

“Winfield has a lot of pride in both academics and athletics,” he said. “They have great administrators who are driven. This is a great area here. They’re thriving and doing well.”

His wife is the show choir choreographer.

His daughter, Braylie, is an eighth grader.

“It’s going to be great next season when I start coaching here because it will be her first year in the band,” Smolder said.

His son, Eddric, is a first grader.

Besides his wife’s family, Smolder also has relatives at Winfield.

“I have several cousins here,” he said.

One is Teddy Kester, who was a star player for McCoy and the 1985 winner of the Kennedy Award — which goes to West Virginia’s top player. Kester went on to play linebacker at West Virginia University.

“His grandma and my grandpa were sister and brother.”

Smolder is taking the necessary steps to get going. Besides the weight room work, he is assembling a staff.

“I’ve got four guys I brought in. I’m working on that as we speak,” he said. “I want to hire a staff that is all about building a culture. I want a staff that parents are proud that we are coaching their kids. I want guys that care about kids, who are tough, work, grind and coach.”

Smolder knows there is much to be done before leading his first General team in game action. He loves the process of getting to that moment.

And he certainly wants to add to Winfield’s past gridiron glory.

“There’s a lot of tradition and history here.”

While his title will be first-year head coach, Eddie Smolder is no stranger to Winfield football.

He learned from one of the best — the late Leon McCoy.