By Mike D’Abate
World-renowned American industrialist Henry Ford was once quoted as saying: “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is a progress. Working together is success.” For new Bryant University head football coach, Chris Merritt, the journey towards success begins with teamwork, both on and off the field.
On December 21, 2018, Merritt was formally announced as the Bulldogs’ head coach in the Stepan Grand Hall of the George E. Bello Center on the Bryant University campus. He becomes the fourth head coach in the program’s history, which has been competing in college football since 1999.
Statistically, Merritt’s coaching pedigree is quite impressive. Prior to accepting the head position at Bryant, he spent the past 18 years as the head coach at Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, Florida. He posted an overall record of 172-45, including two state finals appearances (in 2014, and once again in 2018.) During his tenure, Merritt guided the Explorers to five Regional Championships, 14 District Championships and an 80-4 record in district competition.
In addition to his success at the high school level, Merritt is also no stranger to collegiate competition. Prior to his time at Columbus, he served as the special teams’ coordinator and defensive backs coach at Thiel College in Greenville, Pennsylvania. He also spent two years as an assistant coach at Eastern Illinois University from 1993-94. However, Merritt’s strongest ties to college football are rooted in the numerous young athletes that he has guided toward collegiate careers. Throughout his time at Columbus, Merritt’s program has produced over 100 college football players, including current Bryant offensive linemen Kyle Mann and Robert Perez. In addition, Merritt has coached against many players on the current Bulldogs’ roster. Therefore, it is safe to say that Chris Merritt is already quite familiar with the culture of Bryant football.
However, what is most refreshing about the Bulldogs’ new ‘top dog’ is the ease with which he is settling into the culture of both Bryant University, and its home of Smithfield, Rhode Island. Coming from what he described as ‘a great situation’ at Columbus, Merritt was impressed by Bryant’s embracing of the same type of close-knit, familial camaraderie, to which he was accustomed. “Over the past eight years, I became more of a (Bryant) fan, as I learned more about the University and its athletic program,” Merritt stated. “During my time at Columbus, I sent six of my players to play for the Bulldogs, and never hesitated to do so. The feedback that I would receive from them let me know that this was a special place for young athletes to grow and produce.”
Therefore, it came as little surprise that there was mutual interest from both parties, when the Bryant Football head coaching position became available in late 2018. Merritt’s instincts about Bryant University were both confirmed and enhanced during the interview process. “President (Ron) Machtley, Bill Smith (Bryant’s Athletic Director) and the entire staff made me feel comfortable, and I was certain that this would be an environment in which I would have every opportunity to succeed.” As a result, Merritt is now tasked with continuing to cultivate a Bryant football program with a growing national reputation.
Despite the great responsibility that comes with the job, Merritt is confident that his values and experience have him well-prepared for the task at hand. He has an enthusiastic commitment to the highest level of student-athlete development. As such, he remains steadfast in his desire to ensure that each of his players is able to excel both in the classroom and on the athletic field. “The best compliment that I can receive is when someone tells me that my players are hard-working, respectful, disciplined and play sound football,” Merritt said. Whether it be athletically, academically or socially, he takes his greatest pride in making sure that his players can enjoy ongoing success in all aspects of their life.
It is this type of commitment that is endearing Chris Merritt to the Smithfield community, as well. In having the opportunity to be a part of the Marist Columbus community in Miami for the past 18 seasons, he maintains a staunch desire to develop strong relationships among those with which he shares local ties. “I have been so pleasantly surprised by the support I have received in Smithfield and the surrounding areas, thus far,” Merritt happily explained. “Whether they know me, or not, everyone has been friendly and kind. I was recently greeted warmly by three different people at a local coffee shop. No one mentioned football. They just wanted to wish me a great day. That is the type of community in which coaches and young athletes can thrive.” By his own admission, his fondness for Bryant, as well as Smithfield, will be a major marketing device in the recruiting process.
“I’m extremely excited to hit the road recruiting and to begin work with these young men to develop a culture of success. It is my number one goal at Bryant for every player in our program to expect to win. I can’t think of a better place to do that than this University and this community in Smithfield, Rhode Island.” The Smithfield community could not agree more with Coach Merritt on this point.
On behalf of The Smithfield Times, I would like to welcome Coach Chris Merritt and his children, Megan, Ryan, and Shannon to Smithfield. We wish you the very best of luck in the upcoming season, and hopefully, for many seasons to come.