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In Their Words appears Sundays in The Blade s sports section. Sports writer Steve Junga asked Tim Smith, former BGSU player and coach of several high school teams, to discuss some events leading to his current broadcasting career and eventual induction into the coaching hall of fame.
Tim Smith never played one game of high school basketball, so he was an unlikely candidate to forge a lifelong love affair with the game through coaching and, in recent years, broadcasting.
Born in October, 1939, Smith grew up in Cleveland. While attending a Catholic grade school he served as an altar boy and later spent three years at Borromeo Seminary School intending to become a priest. School officials recognized Smith was more focused on sports, so it was suggested that he depart after his junior year.
He became a basketball junkie, playing anywhere and everywhere around Cleveland. After graduating from Bowling Green State University in 1961, he was hired as head coach at Sandusky St. Mary that fall, starting a 33-year head coaching run that included stops at Springfield (1965-66), Akron St. Vincent (1966-70), St. John s (1970-79, 115-62 record), Lake (1979-1990) and Northview (1990-94). The Northview stint (11-73 record) pulled his career mark below .500 (316-354).
This mark is notable because, upon his induction into the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association s hall of fame in 2006, he became the only member with a losing record.
Smith stayed in the game as an assistant coach at both Maumee, with Jim Robinson (1994-97), and Swanton (1997-99), with son Steve as the head coach. Steve and younger brother Mike Smith played for their dad at Lake, where the Flyers won a Northern Lakes League co-championship in 1984.
After his only season off (1999-2000), Smith rejoined the game as a Friday night analyst on the Channel 24 sportscasts with Jim Tichey. Since 2002, he has been the color analyst for radio play-by-play man Norm Wamer for prep games on 1470-AM and also works several sports telecasts on BCSN.
His wife Sharon died after a battle with cancer in 2002, just shy of the couple s 40th anniversary.
SOMEWHERE in the process I thought that [becoming a priest] would be an occupation that I would like to do.
That was long before I found out about girls. My mother was deeply religious, and she was so proud that I was maybe going to become a priest. I think that encouraged me to try it. I got out at the end of my junior year. There were about 25 in our class, and they called a number of us in to talk about what we needed to do. They suggested that I think about not coming back because it seemed like I was spending all my free time shooting pool or playing Ping-Pong or shooting hoops in the gym. They thought I was a little too interested in sports.
At Bowling Green, I joined a fraternity just because [it] played more intramural basketball games than anybody else. I didn t make the freshman team in the fall of 1957. I spent a lot of time shooting pool. On Friday afternoons I would go to the pool hall. There were four or five guys I couldn t beat, so I never shot against them. We would play nine ball for a quarter a point, and I would win enough money for my dating on the weekends.
WHEN I GOT my first head coaching job at Cleveland St. Joe s, Bernie Guilfoyle took me to his office and gave me whatever [coaching material] he had. I thought that I was fairly well prepared. Actually, I was so ill-prepared that it was ridiculous. Defensively, I just did what a lot of new coaches did back then. I used three different kinds of zone because I didn t know enough about man-to-man.
Going 9-8 my first year felt really successful for me. Early on, I learned to observe everyone I could and, if there was a clinic, I was there. I would travel around and listen to guys talk basketball. You could tell me something once, and I could visualize it in my mind.
MY THIRD YEAR [at Akron St. Vincent] was the turning point. I was 46-86 in my career at that point and I stopped running. I didn t want to play Central-Hower like it s Market Street at midnight, running up and down the floor. I wanted them to come to my house and make them play somebody who s going to make four or five passes and defend everything they want to do. Where we were losing games 70-60, we began winning games 50-42.
Then [after 18-4 at St. Vincent in 1969-70] the St. John s job came about. It was a chance to come into a great situation. The first year we knocked Bob Case and Macomber out of the tournament. That gave credibility to everything that you re trying to do as a coach. We were 16-4, 16-4 and 14-6 the last three years, but they wanted to make a change.
It was a blessing because I got over to the public school system, and the retirement was much better. I wound up at Lake. We were 9-12 the first year, then had four winning seasons in a row. The 1983-84 team [18-5 record] tied Perrysburg for the NLL championship.
MY WIFE WAS a very quiet, private person. She was absolutely supportive of me all of the time. She went through what every coach s wife has to go through when you sit up in those stands. Let s face it. I am the only coach in the Ohio High School basketball coaches hall of fame with a losing record. Somebody wanted me in there, because I did not have the criteria. I went in as an honorary member. She never went to another game after Mike graduated. She had just sat there in the stands and heard too much. She never, ever complained. I couldn t have made it without that kind of support.
I wasn t any basketball genius. I stole everything I ever used. But, if I was going to be demanding to you, I had to exhibit that I could dedicate myself. It was a love of the process and I just loved to be with the kids.
MY LAST YEAR at St. John s we were making our final cuts and we had a senior named Bill Mitchell. He was a football player and was trying to be the 10th senior I kept. I had a rule that you had to run a mile in under six minutes. Bill hurt his ankle playing football and, the first day he was cleared to come back, he said, I m ready to run that mile. I told him to come back the next day. It snowed overnight, and I told him the track was covered with snow.
He said, That s all right, I shoveled the track. He had gone out and shoveled one lane around the whole [quarter-mile] track.
Bill was having trouble, but the whole team was out there with him. They took turns running along with him, urging him on and even dragging him a little bit. I was the only one who knew the time. When he made it around, I said he made the six minutes. Everybody was just ecstatic, jumping around. He was actually a little over the six, but that was the most remarkable thing I ever saw. That s the type of thing you re not going to see anymore.
Contact Steve Junga at:firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6461.