April 11, 2011
Former Bruins assistant football coach Homer Smith passed away on Sunday, April 10 in Tuscaloosa, AL after an extended illness. Smith, 79, served three stints as a UCLA assistant coach (1972-73; 1980-86; 1990-93).
"We have lost a tremendous coach, mentor, and friend," said current Bruin head football coach Rick Neuheisel. "Coach was a great teacher of life and of the game. He will be missed."
Regarded by many as one of the top offensive minds in football, Smith spent 39 years coaching the game, 37 of them at the collegiate level and two more years in the National Football League. He embarked on his coaching career at Stanford in 1958 and then moved on to the Air Force Academy for four seasons before earning his first head coaching appointment at Davidson in 1965. He spent five years with the Wildcats, including a co-Southern Conference championship season in 1969 and a berth in the Tangerine Bowl. Smith then headed back west and spent two seasons as the head coach at the University of the Pacific.
He began the first of his three stints at UCLA in 1972 under Pepper Rodgers and served as the architect of the Wishbone offense that enabled Kermit Johnson to gain over 2,000 yards rushing in two seasons. In 1973, under his system, the Bruin offense set school records in total yards (470.6 per game) and rushing yards per game (400.3), and also set single game marks with 671 total yards against Washington and 621 rushing yards versus Stanford.
Smith served the next five years (1974-78) as the head coach at Army, where he was named 1977 Eastern College Coach of the Year after his team broke all the existing school passing records. He returned to UCLA in 1980, serving as the offensive coordinator and coaching quarterbacks and receivers under head coach Terry Donahue. Quarterback Tom Ramsey, led the nation in passing efficiency in 1982 and ranked seventh in total offense. A year later, Neuheisel set a school record by completing 25 of 27 passes in a game against Washington and ranked fifth nationally in passing efficiency. Both earned Rose Bowl Player of the Game honors by leading the Bruins to victory in their final collegiate game. Smith stayed through the 1986 season, before moving on to the professional ranks as offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Smith reentered the college ranks in 1988 at the University of Alabama. In his second season with the Crimson Tide, he helped lead the team to a 10-2 record, a Southeastern Conference championship and the first Sugar Bowl Appearance in a decade. Smith returned to Donahue's staff at UCLA as coordinator for the 1990-93 seasons and then headed back to Alabama in 1994 and 1995 as offensive coordinator. Smith joined the University of Arizona staff as offensive coordinator in 1996 and retired from coaching the following year.
Smith worked with future NFL quarterbacks Ramsey, Jay Schroeder, Steve Bono, Neuheisel, David Norrie, Matt Stevens and Tommy Maddox. He also mentored some of the best receivers in UCLA history in Mike Sherrard, Karl Dorrell, Cormac Carney, Flipper Anderson and Jojo Townsell. The Bruins made four Rose Bowl appearances during Smith's tenure as offensive coordinator and the teams compiled an overall record of 104-42-4 while finishing first or second in the conference in nine seasons. In 2006, Smith was presented an Outstanding Achievement Award by the American Football Coaches Association.
Smith was also quite a player in his day. He was a two-time All-East and All-Ivy League fullback at Princeton, and graduated in 1954 with a degree in economics. He set a school record for most rushing yards in a game with 273 versus Harvard in 1952 and another school mark for longest scoring rush with a 93-yard jaunt against Yale in the same season. He went on to earn an MBA from Stanford in 1960 and added a master's in theological studies from Harvard in 1982.
Smith was author of several books including Handbook for Coaching the Football Passing Attack, Installing Football's Wishbone T Attack and A Complete Offensive Playbook. He published his first fiction novel, A Game to Play, in 1995.
Services will be held on Friday, April 15 at 1 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Tuscaloosa (800 Greensboro Ave., Tuscaloosa, AL 35401). A reception will follow the service.
Homer is survived by his widow, Kathy, their two daughters - Kim Hall (Leamon) and Cari Carpernter (Wayne) - and four grandchildren - Taylor (junior at West Point) and Shelby Hall; and Maddy and Thomas Carpenter.
A memorial service will be held at the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame on the afternoon of June 12. Details will follow.