Homer Smith won more hearts than games

April, 15, 2011
4/15/11
11:00
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Homer Smith may be the most revered college football coach who ever won 53 games in a 12-year head-coaching career. Smith, who died this week in Tuscaloosa, Ala., at age 79, coached across five decades. He achieved little fame but garnered, among the coaches who worked with him and the writers who covered him, an enormous amount of respect and adoration.

Georgia State head coach Bill Curry, who hired Smith at Alabama in 1988, described Smith on the ESPNU College Football Podcast this week as “the best football coach I’ve ever seen.”

And Curry played for Bobby Dodd at Georgia Tech and Vince Lombardi at Green Bay, both Hall of Famers in their respective categories.

“I thought a lot about it before I said it,” Curry said. “For getting results for bringing a group of young people into a cohesive unit and loving the process and using every iota of his Princeton-Stanford-Harvard education. And the guys loved it. He was just so incredibly productive.”

I encourage you to listen to Curry on the podcast.

Smith made All-Ivy League as a fullback at Princeton in 1952. He combined a sonorous voice with the ability to break down information that made it easy to digest for players (and sportswriters). He did it all with a remarkable lack of pretension for one so smart.

Smith became a head coach at Davidson College in 1964, at age 32. He ended his head-coaching career in 1978 after five seasons at Army that covered the end of the Vietnam War and the aftermath, when the military held very little attraction for young people. Few coaches could have done as well as Smith’s record of 21-33-1 in those circumstances. That also may explain why, when Smith left West Point at age 47, he enrolled in Harvard to study theology.

He returned to coaching in the 1980s and worked at Alabama, UCLA and Arizona, where Dick Tomey hired him as offensive coordinator in 1996 at age 64. Tomey had worked for Smith at Davidson.

“He was one of a kind -- revered by his players and the rare offensive teacher who wrote books about divergent offensive philosophies,” Tomey, now retired, said via email. “Who else wrote about the dropback pass and the wishbone? All the 'gurus' of today are singularly focused on one style: the West Coast, the triple option, the spread, etc. Not Homer.

“The day after he left our staff at Arizona,” Tomey said, “I assembled the staff and said to them, ‘We need to write down all that Homer taught us." We were still writing two hours later.”

“He fired me each year I worked for him at Davidson,” Tomey said, “and yet we became lifelong friends. I will never forget him.”

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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