Porto: Professor Of Football

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(Host)  The football season is in full swing, causing commentator Brian
Porto to reflect on the life of an unusual man who was one of the most
innovative coaches in college football history.

(Porto) In this era of celebrity coaches, it is easy to forget the coaches who
labor in relative obscurity for a lifetime out of devotion to young
people and to a sport. The death earlier this year of football coach
Homer Smith reminded me that, despite its flaws, the sports world can
still produce a talented and caring teacher.

Homer Smith coached
big-time college football, mostly as an assistant specializing in
offense, for nearly forty years. But intelligence, not longevity,
distinguished him from his coaching brethren, and he used that
intelligence to develop imaginative offensive schemes, most notably the
wishbone formation, which transformed college football in the 1970s. As
offensive backfield coach at UCLA, Smith employed the wishbone to great
effect, as the Bruins led the nation in rushing, averaging 400 yards per
game on the ground. Thus, it’s no wonder that Bill Curry, Smith’s
former boss at the University of Alabama, called Smith "the best
football coach I’ve ever seen." As a young man, Bill Curry played for
several coaching giants, including the legendary Vince Lombardi, so his
words carry considerable weight.

Tucson, Arizona sportswriter
Anthony Gimino was similarly effusive about Homer Smith, calling him
"one amazing professor of football." The professor of football, who held
an undergraduate degree from Princeton and graduate degrees from
Stanford and Harvard, respectively, published three books on his
favorite subject, offensive football.

Perhaps the best
indication of Smith’s encyclopedic knowledge of football was a comment
made shortly after his death by his former boss at the University of
Arizona, Head Football Coach Dick Tomey. According to Tomey, "The day
after [Homer] left our staff at Arizona [to retire in 1997], 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."

Still, the
real genius of Homer Smith is evident in the recollection of his
son-in-law, Leamon Hall, who played quarterback at West Point in the
mid-1970s, when Smith was the head coach there. "Since [Homer] died,
"said Hall, "I’ve been hearing more from the second-string guys, and
even guys who got cut – not the guys who were the creme de la crème – about
how he influenced them and shaped their lives. Of course, coaching
college football is all about wins and losses, but [Homer] found a way
to subjugate that to building character in people." That sense of
proportion was evident in Smith’s decision to leave coaching temporarily
in 1978 and to spend the next two years studying theology at Harvard

I hope every high school football coach in Vermont and
New Hampshire will read the books of Homer Smith and study his life. No more
honorable profession exists than teacher-coach, and nobody better
exemplified excellence in both roles than Homer Smith.

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