Speaking of quarterbacks
Homer Smith has an impressive record of developing quarterbacks. When he was head coach of Army (1974-1978), his team set records for passing. In 1977, his Army squad broke every single school passing record.
In the early 1980â€™s, quarterbacks like Tom Ramsey, Rick Neuheisel and Steve Bono matriculated with the Bruins under Smithâ€™s tutelage.
He helped Gary Hollingsworth to set school passing records at Alabama, and he made Jay Barker into an award winner.
Smithâ€™s teaching method was to put a quarterback into game situations. He would try to model what the quarterback would see during the game.
â€œYou canâ€™t scrimmage all the time. You canâ€™t play against live players, but you can setup on defense an enactment of what he will see,â€ Smith said. â€œYou would say (to the defense) cover this, but donâ€™t actually hit the receiver. So, I tried to do it (teach) by putting pictures in the quaterbackâ€™s mind.
â€œSee, a quarterback reacts: throw or donâ€™t throw. He throws if it is safe, and he doesnâ€™t if there is danger. I always tried to work in context as much as possible.â€
Smith also used the power of words to instruct his quarterbacks.
â€œInterestingly enough, I got a feeling when I was in Divinity School at Harvard that words collect thoughts and hold everyoneâ€™s attention; words keep you organized around a thought, and you can do that in football,â€ Smith said. â€œCoaches do that all the time now. They have single words that call for everything they want about that moment.
â€œYou want a passer to SEQUENCE, you canâ€™t throw here, then move on and try to throw there. You want him to go from one to another and not get stuck on one receiver. You want him to SEQUENCE through the entire pattern spread out over the entire field.â€
Using words, over and over and over again can help create the appropriate thoughts, so the player actually understands the concept.
While teaching quarterbacks, Heâ€™s built relationships with his pupils.
Smith speaks fondly of his former students. One of his best quarterbacks was Rick Neuheisel, now the head coach of UCLA. He was out in L.A. visiting with coaches, and sitting in a meeting or two during the spring. Smith found Neuheisel much the same as when he played at UCLA.
â€œHe is absolutely indomitable,â€ Smith said. â€œNothing discourages him. He is just like he always wasâ€”the same sense of humor…He is terrific. He was a great player.â€
Smith also complimented Hollingsworth extensively during our conversation. He said Hollingsworth was a good leader for whom other players wanted to do their best.
â€œHollingsworth had five receivers around him who wanted fervently for (Hollingsworth) to be successful,â€ Smith said. â€œThey really busted their butts to make Garyâ€™s passes be successful. They worked to know their stuff. They busted their butts to get open and catch the ball. … The linemen loved him. They always knew where he was going to be. He wasnâ€™t going to run off somewhere.â€
Smith has many fond memories of Hollingsworth, and that 1989 Alabama team.
â€œI had my best year in coaching in 1989 at Alabama,â€ Smith said. â€œAnd I loved â€™88. I loved all the years I had here.â€
Smith has a affection for Tuscaloosa. He has retained residency in the community, and hasnâ€™t found Alabama to be a pressure cooker like other former coaches describe.
â€œThe pressure here doesnâ€™t so much get to the coaches,â€ Smith said. â€œI only had one nasty letter the whole time I coached at Alabama.
â€œThey wrote to me and said: â€˜Please resign immediately!â€™, and the way we played, I should have resigned immediately.â€