By Mike Deak
NAPPANEE – If there has been a professional trait that has followed Roman Smith through the three stops on his administrative tour, it’s been branding. Nothing has changed as Smith, who was named the new athletic director at NorthWood, settles into his role, branding is at the forefront of his objective.
Having had a little bit of a head start in a dual citizenship sort of role balancing his new duties with NorthWood, but also riding out the final days as assistant athletic director at Warsaw, Smith was working the lines hard. Still crossing the T’s with some of the projects he started with Warsaw, a job he held just this past school year, and dotting I’s on new ventures in Nappanee, Smith has been busy.
It’s a feeling he enjoys, and possibly better stated, thrives upon.
“I’ve compiled a 90-day strategy of understanding in the next three months, what do I need to work on,” Smith said, sitting in a relatively barren NorthWood athletic director’s office in early June. “What is our structure, what do we want to implement. Where is the time spent and what can we improve in the interim. Once that 90 days is up, let’s see where we are at, evaluate it, and let’s look at the next 90 days. Maybe a deeper dive into those 90 days. Facilities, coach support. Having a plan is going to be big for us.”
Smith began his professional career as athletic director at Lakeland, which lasted three years. While there, Smith helped oversee branding ventures, including new logo designs and facility upgrades. Finding the opportunity to jump to Warsaw in an assistant role was appealing, and in 2020, he came to Tiger Town. While he carried a very heavy plate of responsibilities with Warsaw, Smith felt his calling was to run the show. Then came Norm Sellers announcing his retirement from NorthWood, and a new door of opportunity swing wide open.
Smith jumped at the chance.
“Going from the biggest school in the conference to the smallest, there is a tremendous amount of perspective that can be gained from both sides,” Smith said. “Warsaw has a tremendous amount of support and leadership, and things that you can take and pick from to implement here that worked at Warsaw. So how did the big school in the conference do things in this regard, and how can we apply them to NorthWood, how can NorthWood become premiere more so than they already are.”
Often remarking how he was always doing five things at once while at Warsaw, Smith found himself doing ten things at once after being hired in the spring to replace Sellers. On a couple occasions, he would update the Warsaw girls track Twitter with success notes during a meet while still coaching the meet, and also cheer on NorthWood as they paraded through their spring ventures. Splitting three days in Kosciusko County and three days in Elkhart County orbited trying to relocate from living in Allen County to finding a house ironically a block from Warsaw athletic director Matt Binkerd. “I told him that when NorthWood and Warsaw play each other, I’m going to t.p. his trees,” joked Smith.
While the black shorts and jackets all transition nicely, Smith has enjoyed an equally smooth approach to marketing his new nation in Panther Nation. Already with a branding initiative of ‘Scratch and Claw’, Smith is putting the foundation down. Along with assistant athletic director AJ Risedorph, who has been with NorthWood High School for nearly a decade as a teacher and coach, the two are looking to give a fresh approach to NorthWood’s already sound athletic spectrum.
“Ultimately, it will be finding ways to provide more support, to provide more communication, and AJ certainly will be phenomenal at that here at NorthWood,” Smith said. “It’s not to take away anything from Norm, he did an unbelievable job here for 14 years. It’s just now how can we add to something that’s already great. With AJ, we’re working together, checking each other’s blind spots, keeping each other accountable, different eyes on different situations for perspective and insight, that is going to be huge for us.
“I really think in the next five years, we’re going to see a big upswing and a big trend in how we do things. Taking it to the premiere level.”