Veteran Whitmer basketball coach Bruce Smith retiring at season's end

Whitmer head coach Bruce Smith will retire at the end of the Panthers’ basketball season. The veteran coach has an overall record of 334-69.
Whitmer head coach Bruce Smith will retire at the end of the Panthers’ basketball season. The veteran coach has an overall record of 334-69.

Whitmer boys basketball coach Bruce Smith will retire after this season, though he’s not very comfortable with you knowing that.

The 22nd-year Panthers coach cringes at the thought of his final weeks being treated as a farewell tour.

When Smith learned Whitmer planned to honor him before the school’s final home game Feb. 15 against Central Catholic, he promptly addressed his team.

"I didn’t want that garbage at all," Smith said Thursday night. "I want every ounce of of my energy dedicated to my team’s success. When my team found out they were doing something next Friday, I hammered it. I said, ‘Look, we’re going to talk about this for two minutes.’ [Central] is a tremendous opponent. They’ll command every ounce of energy I have toward preparing for them. It’s never been about me, and it never will be."

Smith, 56, who said the Whitmer administration has long known of his plans to retire after his 35th year in the state’s education eeeeeesystem, is enjoying his latest in a line of successful seasons. With a 13-5 record, Smith’s career mark officially stands at 334-69.

His career highlights include a trip to the Division I state semifinals in 2008 and a Division I state runner-up finish last season, though the latter feat was vacated after the Ohio High School Athletic Association ruled the school used an ineligible player on the football and boys basketball teams in 2011-2012.

Smith endured a period of turmoil in 2010 when five families registered complaints with the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that accused him of making racially insensitive comments and dividing players by race in drills. Smith at the time said he meant nothing racial by his comments. Several former players voiced their support for the coach while about 100 people backed him at a rally on Whitmer’s campus.

Smith returned to guide Whitmer to a 20-2 season in 2011 after the Panthers were picked to finish fourth in the City League, earning recognition as the Blade’s boys basketball coach of the year.

"I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to coach a lot of great student-athletes," Smith said.

The son of a coach — Smith played for his father, Stuart, at Forest Park High School in Crystal Falls, a town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula — he began his teaching/coaching career in 1978 as a seventh-grade basketball assistant at Napoleon Middle School. Smith became head coach at Delta in 1987 before taking over Whitmer in 1991.

His son, Ryne, is continuing the family tradition at Purdue, where the former Boilermakers guard is a student assistant coach.