A conversation with Homer Smith

Editor’s note: Due to length, we’ve divided this into three parts:
Part I: on this page
Part II: Speaking of Quarterbacks
Part III: The spread & defending against the spread

He’s the greatest offensive mind ever to coach in Alabama. He’s a fan favorite, and he holds the most impressive list of degrees of any coach I’ve known (Princeton, Stanford and Harvard.) He’s Homer Smith. When you say the name, Alabama fans remember the only man who could transform Alabama’s anemic offense into a source of pride, and more importantly, points.

Smith still resides in Tuscaloosa, and is still an Alabama fan. He’s an offensive virtuoso capable of talking about any football topic. His knowledge of the game was accumulated over a distinguished career.

Smith coached for 39 years with two terms at Alabama (two seasons under Bill Curry 1988 and 1989, and two seasons under Gene Stallings 1994 and 1995.)

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If anyone doubts Smith’s abilities as a quarterback coach, just look at his success in Tuscaloosa. In 1989, Smith coached Gary Hollingsworth to an amazing run—winning the SEC and earning a Sugar Bowl birth. What might have been an even more amazing job under less than ideal circumstances took place in 1994. That season saw Smith coach Jay Barker to a fifth place in balloting for the Heisman, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, and SEC Player of the Year honors.

Smith’s football career began at Princeton where he played fullback in the single-wing.

“We had very, very good teams at that time,” Smith said of his alma mater. And Smith was a big reason for those good teams.

He was captain of the 1953 team, and still holds a few records, including the longest run (93 yards for a touchdown in 1952). Smith held the record for most rushing yards in a game for forty years. In 1952 against Harvard, Smith carried the ball 26 times for 273 yards. The record fell in 1992.

Smith left Princeton in 1954 when he earned a degree in economics. His decision to enter coaching came about a year later. Smith attended a Princeton football game, and stayed with his former head coach. It was there in 1955 when Smith decided to try coaching. While in the MBA program at Stanford, he worked as a graduate assistant. When he completed his degree and was looking for a job, he took the freshman team coaching position right there at Stanford.

From there Smith spent “four great years” at Air Force. Following that he was head coach at Davidson College, and then head coach at Pacific.

From Pacific the road led to UCLA—where Smith is without question a legend. In his second year as an assistant (1973) UCLA’s offense set records for rushing yards per game, 400.3, and total yards 470.6 per game.

“The rushing record still stands in the conference down there at UCLA,” Smith said.

Smith’s travels as a coach were not over at UCLA. He’d move to a few additional schools, try the NFL and return to college.

The NFL game and the college game are different—we all know that. But what makes the game different? Having worked at both levels, Smith can answer that question.

“The biggest difference to me was the limited size of the squad, and the fact that players had to play when they were hurt,” Smith said. “They were the toughest people I could ever imagine being around.

“I had a quarterback one time, Bill Kenney, who at halftime got a cut in his arm. He had it sewn up, and went out and had a great game.”

Smith said Kenney was the best quarterback he ever coached.

Part II: Speaking of Quarterbacks