In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports writer Maureen Fulton talked with Larry Smith, a former Bowling Green State University defensive end in the school's Hall of Fame and a college football head coach for 24 years.
The winning tradition Larry Smith learned atBowling Green State University led him to make a career out of rebuilding college football programs.
Smith played defensive end for BGSU from 1959-61. The Falcons lost just three games during that span. He went on to resurrect programs at Tulane and Missouri and also coached at Arizona and Southern California, finishing with a 143-126-7 record.
Smith grew up in Van Wert, Ohio and graduated from Van Wert High School. After a year at the U.S. Military Academy, Smith came back to his home state to play for coach Doyt Perry. In his first year, the Falcons won the small-college national championship, going 9-0 and outscoring their opponents 274-83.
In 1961 Smith was a team captain. The Falcons played in the first bowl game in school history, the Mercy Bowl against Fresno State.
Smith wanted to be a teacher and coach and took Perry's physical education class while in school. Perry taught his students his "16 coaching principles" and Smith used those tenets in every one of his coaching jobs.
He graduated from BGSU in 1962 with a math degree, and later went back for a master's in administrative education.
While teaching and coaching at Lima Shawnee High School for two years, Smith took night school classes for his graduate degree. He was set to be a graduate assistant for Perry when the head coaching job at Shawnee opened and Smith got the position. He coached Shawnee for three years, leading the team to a 10-0 record his last season. In 1967 Bo Schembechler hired Smith as an assistant at Miami. Two years later Schembechler took Smith with him to the University of Michigan, where he stayed another four years. Next fellow Van Wert native Jim Young, another of Smith's mentors, hired Smith as his defensive coordinator at Arizona.
Smith's first head coaching job was at Tulane in 1976. Three veteran candidates had rejected Tulane because of the despair surrounding the program. The first three years were losing seasons, but in 1979 Tulane went 9-3 and played in the Liberty Bowl.
Smith went back to Arizona in 1980 to be the head coach. He had six winning seasons and was hired at USC in 1987. Smith's Trojan teams played in three consecutive Rose Bowls.
After leaving USC, Smith coached for seven years at Missouri. He ended a 13-year streak of losing seasons and took the Tigers to bowls in 1997 and 1998. He was fired after the 2000 season and decided to retire.
Smith, 66, was inducted into the Falcons' Hall of Fame in 1991. He lives in Tucson, Ariz., with his wife Cheryl. They have two children and six grandchildren. He conducts several academies a year for youth coaches, votes in the Harris Poll and does occasional work as a color commentator for Fox on Northern Arizona football games.
"I HAD BEEN recruited by Bowling Green out of high school but I went to the U.S. Military Academy. I flunked out of Spanish my freshman year. I had decided I wanted to be a teacher and a coach and I really liked Doyt Perry and Bob Gibson. For me, it was the perfect situation because it was a school that specialized in graduating teachers and putting the teachers in the educational system."
"Personality-wise, you'd think Doyt wasn't a real tough-minded guy, but he was. He demanded excellence, focused on the fundamentals of blocking and tackling. I took that with me, I always emphasized the teaching of blocking and tackling. Doyt's teams never beat themselves. They weren't flashy and weren't fancy, but we were always fighting to be successful."
"I NEVER ACTUALLY played in a losing football game until my junior year of college. Throughout junior high and high school, and my first year at Bowling Green in 1959 we won the national championship. My junior year we lost to Ohio University 14-7. It's really very helpful to be in a program like Bowling Green to experience being in that, the things that you learn in the coaches. It helped me as a head coach in rebuilding a program. I used the fundamentals of what I learned from Doyt, building from the bottom up."
"Five years ago, when I was still the coach at Missouri, I was diagnosed with chronic lymphatic leukemia. It didn't have to be treated right away. About a year ago, I started getting really sick. I got a severe lung infection and my immune system was pretty much shot. I lost about 35 pounds, but the stuff I took I responded to it. It's a chronic condition, but you just have to stay on top of it."
"EVERY TIME BG is on, I follow them pretty closely. A lot of my teammates, we get together every summer, mostly for golf tournaments. All those guys I played with, most of them I hear from at one time or another. Doyt created a team atmosphere."
Contact Maureen Fulton at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6160.
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