UPDATE 8:15 p.m.: Smelley has been found safe 10-15 miles off shore by the Coast Guard.

Rescue officials in Florida and the Coast Guard in Mobile are searching the Gulf waters for Chris Smelley, 37, of Sylacauga.

The head coach of the Sylacauga High School football team went kayaking Thursday morning around 8:30 by himself and has not returned.

The Walton County, Florida Sheriff’s Office posted this notice on their Facebook page:

Here is a photo of the kayak Smelley embarked on Thursday morning. It has not been recovered either.

Kayaksmelley Alabama News
Chris Smelley kayak. Walton County Sheriff

Smelley launched his blue and black kayak from Grayton Beach near Fort Walton. The search is being coordinated by the Walton County, Florida Sheriff’s Office.

The waters of the Gulf were rough at that time, with red flags and yellow flags at various beach locations.

Smelley is in his second year as head football coach of the Sylacauga High School Aggies. He previously coached at this alma mater, American Christian Academy in Tuscaloosa. While a student there, he played quarterback and was the catcher on the baseball team.

He was recruited by Coach Steve Spurrier of South Carolina and played quarterback there from 2006 to 2008. He transferred home to the University of Alabama and completed his college eligibility as a baseball player for Alabama.

Smelley worked stops as an assistant coach at Hillcrest of Tuscaloosa and then home to American Christian as offensive coordinator. He was promoted there to head coach for 2014 - 2020. Afterward, he had a year stopover at Hoover High as quarterbacks' coach.

He was hired as head coach of the Sylacauga Aggies in 2023, going 2 - 8 in his only season.

Family and friends on Facebook are actively praying for Smelley’s safe return.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Jim ‘Zig’ Zeigler writes about Alabama’s people, places, events, groups and prominent deaths. He is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor. You can reach him for comments at ZeiglerElderCare@yahoo.com.

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