Chris Smeland
Chris Smeland

Co-Defensive Coordinator/Safeties

5th Year

Alma Mater:
Cal Poly (1974)


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Chris Smeland joined Rich Ellerson's staff as co-defensive coordinator and safties coach in January 2009. While Smeland had not coached with Ellerson since their days together at the University of Hawai'i, Smeland had remained well-versed in Ellerson's double-eagle flex scheme the previous three decades, introducing the system during his stints as defensive coordinator at Utah State University, the University of Louisville and Michigan State University.

In all, Smeland boasts 28 years of experience as a defensive coordinator at the Division I level. He worked directly under highly respected head coach John L. Smith during 12 of those seasons.

In his first season as the co-coordinator at West Point, the Black Knights finished the 2009 season ranked 16th in the nation in total defense, 35th in scoring defense and third in pass defense. Defensive end Josh McNary set the Academy record for quarterback sacks on game, season and career levels.

In 2010, the Black Knights again stood among the nation's leaders, ranking 29th in total defense and third in the country in turnover margin. Army's 30 takeaways tied for the 12th most in the nation. The Black Knights held four of their 2010 opponents to 21 points or less, including the program's first shutout since 2005. Under Smeland's tutelage, free safety Donovan Travis intercepted a team-high five passes in 2010, finishing his Army career with 11.

Smeland helped guide one of the youngest defenses in recent Black Knights history in 2011. Despite having five plebes start at least one game, including two in the secondary, the Army defense ranked fifth in the nation against the pass and 43rd in total defense. Army registered a shutout for the second straight season and held three opponents to 14 points or less.

During his most recent stop at Michigan State, the Spartans' defense played a major role in the team's remarkable turnaround in 2003. Michigan State led the Big Ten in quarterback sacks (45 for 299 yards), takeaways (29) and interceptions (15). The Spartans also ranked among the Big Ten (6th) and NCAA leaders (27th) in rushing defense, allowing only 124.8 yards per game. In 2003, Michigan State held four opponents under the 100-yard rushing mark while permitting just nine rushing touchdowns.

The Spartans displayed dramatic improvement on the defensive side of the football in 2003. That fact is magnified when considering the unit that had ranked ninth in the Big Ten and No. 110 nationally (out of 117) in rushing defense the previous season, surrendering 213.8 yards per game. The 2002 Spartans also finished ninth in the Big Ten in sacks (19 for 113 yards) and takeaways (19).

Prior to his stint at Michigan State, the 58-year-old Smeland played an integral part in helping Louisville to a combined record of 41-21 (.661) from 1998 to 2002. The Cardinals earned five consecutive postseason bowl appearances and back-to-back Conference USA championships (2000 and 2001) during that tenure. He also helped develop players who earned All-Conference USA honors 16 times, including seven first-team selections.

From 2000 to 2002, Louisville's defense led the nation with 132 quarterback sacks to go along with 86 takeaways, including 54 interceptions. The Cardinals ranked among NCAA leaders in rushing defense (17th) and total defense (22nd) in 2002 and finished the 2001 campaign ranked 10th nationally in scoring defense, permitting only 17.8 points per game.

In 2000, Louisville ranked among NCAA leaders in rushing defense (No. 4) and total defense (No. 15) while forcing a nation-best 37 turnovers. All-America safety Anthony Floyd led the NCAA with 10 interceptions that season.

During a three-year stint as defensive coordinator at Utah State under Smith from 1995 to 1997, the Aggies won consecutive Big West Conference crowns in 1996-97. Smeland tutored six first-team All-Big West selections. In 1997, Utah State led the Big West in every defensive category and finished ranked 25th nationally in rushing defense, allowing only 115.6 yards per game.

In 1995, the Aggies also ranked among league leaders in every defensive category - finishing second in total defense, second in passing defense and third in rushing defense. Utah State allowed fewer than 16 points per game in conference play.

A 1974 graduate of Cal Poly, Smeland earned all-conference and All-Little Coast honors as a senior member of the Mustangs' football program. He also served as team captain during his senior season and lettered four times as a defensive back before graduating with a bachelor's degree in business administration. He would go on to earn a master's degree in finance from the University of Colorado in 1976.

Smeland first became acquainted with Ellerson at the University of Hawai'i, after spending four years as a member of the Warriors' defensive staff (1991-94). Smeland's first season at Hawai'i (1991) marked Ellerson's last as the Warriors' defensive coordinator. After working with Hawai'i's inside and outside linebackers that year, Smeland succeeded Ellerson as defensive coordinator in 1992 after Ellerson departed to take a defensive position at the University of Arizona. Smeland held that title for the Warriors for three years (1992-94) before joining Smith at Utah State in 1995.

Hawai'i captured a share of the Western Athletic Conference championship in 1992 and finished 11-2 overall, including a 27-17 Holiday Bowl triumph over Illinois, thanks in part to a defensive unit which ranked second in the league in rushing defense (167.2). Smeland tutored two first-team All-WAC selections during his tenure, including nose guard Maa Tanuvasa (1992) and linebacker Junior Faavae (1994).

Prior to his term at Hawai'i, Smeland served as defensive coordinator at Kent State University (1988-90) and Cal Poly (1982-87). His coaching credits also include stops at the University of Nevada, where he tutored the offensive line from 1979 to 1981, Colorado, where he worked with outside linebackers in 1978 and Southwestern Louisiana University, where he oversaw inside linebackers in 1977.

He and his wife, Barbara, have three children: Jamie Christine, Kathleen Nicole and Kristen Kelly.

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