For Mainland Regional High School football coach Chuck Smith, Friday nights are just as much about his three daughters as what happens on the field.
Smith and wife Anne’s oldest daughter, Brianna, watches from the stands and analyzes each play.
Their middle daughter, Emma, is a sophomore at Mainland and a Mustangs cheerleader.
Their youngest daughter, Daniela Marie, hasn’t decided on her football future, but she is named after Chuck’s favorite player — retired Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino.
“My wife keeps the family together all week long,” Chuck said. “Every Friday night is a family affair for us. The whole family is at the same event, which makes it very special.”
His daughters appreciate it, too.
“We’re lucky,” Emma said. “We can all, in our own ways, appreciate it.”
This season, the Smiths have even more to be happy about.
Mainland is off to its best start since it finished 12-0 and won the South Jersey Group IV title in 2008. The Mustangs (6-0) play at Middle Township (3-2) at 6 p.m. Friday.
Brianna, as the oldest, was the first Smith daughter to understand her father’s passion for football. She is akin to coach Yost’s daughter in the movie “Remember the Titans,” who in the movie constantly challenged her dad’s strategy.
“I’m like the son, he wishes he had,” Brianna said with a laugh.
Now a paralegal in Ocean City, Brianna, 27, still bugs her dad to make her an assistant coach.
“I would come home from the game,” Smith said, “and she would be sitting there and critique my play calling.”
Brianna graduated from Mainland in 2009. Smith was the offensive coordinator for the 2008 Mustangs, and Brianna was friends with many of the players.
Smith used to quiz her on the team’s schemes and formations.
“If I got the questions wrong, I had to do yard work,” she said. “Anything to get out of doing weeding and mulch. I thought that was normal.”
Brianna still isn’t shy about second guessing her dad in the stands.
“It’s frustrating,” she said. “I’m like, ‘He should have done this.’ I don’t know if he’d ever admit it, but I think he takes my opinion seriously. He realizes I know what I’m talking about. But he created the monster.”
Emma, 15, has been a cheerleader her whole life. Before Mainland, she cheered for the Northfield Cardinals in the Atlantic County Junior Football League.
Emma spends most of her time as a cheerleader facing the crowd, but she loves the times the cheerleaders get to watch the action on the field.
“I know exactly what’s going on,” she said. “As much as I want to entertain everyone, I want to face the field and watch that, because that’s something I’ve grown up with.”
Chuck and Emma always see each other for a hug and kiss before each game.
“She always comes running up to me after the game, win or lose,” Chuck said.
Daniela Marie, 12, understands how important football is to her dad. The family visited Florida for a vacation this summer. One of their destinations was Hard Rock Stadium, where the Dolphins play their home games. Chuck and Daniela Marie posed for pictures with the life-sized statue of Marino outside of the stadium.
“I think she might end up being a football manager for me down the road,” Smith said.
Coaches must work hard to find a balance between their family lives and their teams. Smith gets up early every Sunday morning to prepare his game plan for the upcoming week, so he can spend the rest of his day with his family.
Many coaches step away because they don’t want to miss their child’s games or cheerleading competitions.
The Smiths are fortunate.
Teenagers and young adults go their own way. That’s part of growing up.
Football gives Chuck and his three daughters something to come back to.
Michael McGarry’s Must Win column appears Fridays in The Press.