Assistant Head Football Coach/Defensive Coordinator
In his sixth year as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at Central Oklahoma is Russ Pickett.
Pickett, who also serves as recruiting coordinator for the Bronchos, leads a Broncho defense that last season tallied six interceptions and forced nine fumbles. Pickett works with the defensive line and had two linemen selected to the All-MIAA team in 2016.
UCO's defense saw a defensive enjoyed a two-year stretch that helped the Bronchos post back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2003-04. UCO went 8-4 and finished third in the rugged Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association in 2014 before going 7-5 in 2015 after rebounding from an 0-4 start. The Bronchos held six opponents to less than 400 yards total offense in 2015 and seven defenders earned All-MIAA recognition.
Pickett was defensive/recruiting coordinator at Navarro in 2010 and ‘11, helping lead the Bulldogs to a 21-3 record, the 2010 junior college national championship and back-to-back conference titles.
Russ directed a unit that led the conference in defensive scoring both years at Navarro. He coached 12 all-conference players while with the Bulldogs, including one first-team All-American.
A native of Camden, Ark., Pickett was a four-year letterman as an offensive lineman at Division II Ouachita Baptist, serving as team captain his senior year.
He started his coaching career at Division II Southern Arkansas, spending two years as a graduate assistant before taking over as defensive line coach in 2005 and then moving to the secondary in 2006.
Pickett coached three players who signed with NFL teams during his tenure with the Muleriders, including defensive tackle Cedric Thornton, who is currently on the Dallas Cowboys roster.
Russ moved on to Fort Scott Community College as defensive coordinator in 2007, spending two years there.
The Greyhounds went 9-3 in 2007 as Pickett’s defensive unit finished 10th nationally in total defense, with four players earning all-conference honors. Pickett’s defense posted five shutouts and allowed a conference-low 6.9 points a game during a 9-2 campaign in 2008 as seven players earned all-conference honors and three were named All-American.
Pickett spent the 2009 season as defensive coordinator at Benton (Ark.) High School before going to Navarro College where he joined forces with Nick Bobeck. The two came to UCO together in 2012.
Russ, who received his bachelor’s in physical education from OBU and his master’s in educational leadership from SAU, is married (Kristin) and has three daughters (Lexie, Ella Grace and Embry).
Defensive Backs Coach
In his second year as an assistant coach at Central Oklahoma is Nick Graham, a former Division I standout who went on to play several years of professional football.
Graham, coaches defensive backs for the Bronchos, and came to UCO after three years as an assistant at Tulsa. He helped a young Broncho secondary pickoff six passes a season ago.
Graham served as a student assistant coach for the Golden Hurricane in 2013 before spending the 2014 and 2015 seasons as defensive analyst.
Nick was a prep standout at Millwood High School in Oklahoma City before going on to a stellar four-year career at TU, earning second-team All-Conference USA honors twice. He started in 30 of 50 games played with the Golden Hurricane and finished with 180 tackles, 20 broken up passes, seven interceptions, 8.0 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
Graham played six years of professional football after leaving TU, spending the first three years in the National Football League with the Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts. He was out of football for a year before returning to play three years in the Canadian Football League with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Hamilton Tiger-cats.
Graham retired in 2013 and returned to TU to complete his degree in communications and start his coaching career.
Nick is married (Candice) and has three children (Jaliyah, Nicholas and Jamison).
Linebackers Coach/Strength and Conditioning Coordinator
Jason Smelser is in his fourth year with the Central Oklahoma program and serves as both the linebackers coach and the strength and conditioning coach.
Smelser, a former head coach, played a pivotal role in helping the Bronchos post back-to-back winning seasons in 2014 and 2015.
Smelser coached in 2015 linebacker Malcolm Howard, who earned second-team All-MIAA honors after racking up 140 tackles, the most by a UCO player since 1998 and the seventh-best season in school history.
Jason came to the Bronchos after a three-year stint as an assistant at NCAA Division II Henderson State. He coached running backs, tight ends and fullbacks in 2011 before becoming linebacker coach/strength and conditioning coordinator in 2012.
Smelser helped the Reddies to a 21-2 record the nex two seasons, with HSU winning back-to-back Great American Conference championships in making consecutive trips to the Division II playoffs. He was named Samson Equipment’s NCAA Division II Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year by American Football Monthly after the 2012 season.
A native of Monroe, La., Smelser was a prep standout at Ouachita Christian High School before going on to play at Southern Arkansas. He was a four-year letterman and three-year starter at running back for the Muleriders, earning All-Gulf South Conference honors once.
Smelser stayed on at SAU to start his coaching career as a graduate assistant in 1999-00 and then served as defensive line coach from 2001-04, helping lead the Muleriders to the Division II playoffs in 2003 when his line totaled 30 sacks.
Smelser became defensive coordinator at Iowa Wesleyan in 2005 and added head coaching duties the following season. He stayed with the NAIA-member Tigers until 2009 and then spent the 2010 season as defensive coordinator/head strength coach at Concordia (Mich.) before going to Henderson State.
Jason, who earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Southern Arkansas, is married (Wendy) and has two children (Madison and Slade).
Assistant Defensive Line Coach
In his third year as a graduate assistant coach with the Central Oklahoma football program is Alex Knox, who will help coach special teams.
Knox has helped guide the Bronchos to back-to-back winning records for the first time since 2003-04. UCO went 8-4 in 2014, which included a third-place finish in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association and an appearance in the Mineral Water Bowl, and followed with a 7-5 campaign and Live United Bowl victory last year.
A two-year starter on the offensive line at Norman High School who earned All-District honors as a senior, Knox coached the offensive line at Sand Springs High School in 2011-12. He was offensive line/running backs coach at Kiefer High School from 2012-14 before coming to UCO.
Alex is working on his degree in communications.
Assistant Defensive Backs Coach
In his third year as a graduate assistant coach with Central Oklahoma is Ruben Gaines, a former player for the Bronchos.
Gaines played cornerback at UCO from 2010-12 before suffering a career-ending ankle injury. He went on to earn a general studies degree and entered into coaching with the Bronchos in 2015, helping coach defensive backs.
Ruben was a prep standout at Muskogee High School, serving as defensive captain for the Roughers. He earned All-District and honorable mention All-State honors as a senior.
Gaines is working on his master's in communications.