No one was more disappointed in last season’s 4-7 record than Missouri Head Coach Larry Smith ... and no one is more excited about the prospects of the 2000 campaign than Larry Smith.
This past November and December, the 23-year veteran coach put his entire program under a microscope and piece-by-piece, he disected it from top-to-bottom. Changes were made in all facets, and Smith’s Tigers are anxious to put those changes to the test.
Smith has brought in three new coaches to implement an offensive style that combines Mizzou’s traditional smash-mouth attack with a new wide-open assault. It is an offense that will be devised to keep defenses off balance, and the Tigers plan on using a 50/50 mix (50 percent running, 50 percent passing).
The bottom line is Smith is out to prove that one down year does not mean his Tigers cannot be right where they were the two previous seasons. Smith has brought the Missouri program too far in his six years for it to crumble after one down year.
The rebuilding job at MU has been an emotional roller coaster for Smith, who in six years has taken a once-proud program from the doldrums back to a place among the nation’s elite. The Tigers have played in two bowl games, the 1997 Holiday Bowl and the 1998 Insight.com Bowl, in the last the three seasons. It was the first time that Missouri had played in back-to-back bowl games since 1980-81.
The formula has been similar to what he used at his previous stops on the head-coaching trail at Tulane, Arizona and Southern California ... aggressive defense plus an offense that establishes itself on the ground, and a strong emphasis on the kicking game. Add equal parts of discipline, team unity and spirit and you have Smith’s game plan.
Although 1997 was the season in which the Tigers posted their first winning record since 1983, and came within the flukiest play of the 1997 college football season of beating a No. 1 team for the first time in school history, the seeds for this breakthrough began to sprout a year ago.
In 1996, the Tigers won three of their last five games to finish with a 5-6 record and in the process the Tigers showed the fortitude to win the close games. The Tigers went 3-1 in games decided by eight points or less, the first time since 1978 that MU had posted a winning record in “close” games. Two of those wins came in overtime.
The running game took hold and ranked ninth nationally, averaging more than 250 yards per contest. For the first time in school history, four backs ran for 500-or-more yards.
Finally, in 1997, it was his team. Only five players remained from the previous regime, meaning that Smith had a team that had grown up in his system.
The Tigers improved on their rushing success, ranking 6th in Division I-A, and again had four backs each gain 500 yards. Junior quarterback Corby Jones emerged as one of the nation’s finest players and added a passing threat to the offense that helped MU set a school scoring record.
The defense, though probably a year behind the offense in development, made more big plays, contributing to a huge improvement in turnover margin.
Smith was named the Big 12 Conference “Coach of the Year” by the Associated Press and the Dallas Morning News. He was the first Missouri coach to receive that honor since Warren Powers got the AP’s nod as Big Eight Conference “Coach of the Year” in 1983. He was honored nationally as well. Smith was tabbed as the “National Coach of the Year” by the Downtown Athletic Club of Glenwood, Iowa, joining Nebraska’s Tom Osborne, Arizona State’s Bruce Snyder, and Northwestern’s Gary Barnett as recipients of the award. He was similarly honored by another organization in Russell, Kan.
There are other factors, of course. Smith has built a solid relationship with high school coaches throughout Missouri, an effort that is paying off in recruiting, and will continue to reap dividends with time.
His spring coaching clinic, which is held in conjunction with the Missouri State High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame dinner, draws record numbers to Columbia. His summer camps, likewise, have attracted more high school football players to MU than ever before.
Support from MU’s administration in admissions issues and facility improvement projects are also giving Smith the tools to return the Tiger football program to its historical position of national prominence.
The challenges, though, are stiffer now that MU is a member of the Big 12 Conference. But Smith relishes that challenge, and has attacked it with the same resolve and detailed plan of action that has characterized his tenure at MU since being hired Dec. 15, 1993.
The progress he’s shown and diligence with which he’s approached the task gained him a contract extension just prior to the start of the 1996 season, and the University took similar steps again in December, 1998 giving him a five-year deal through the 2003 season.
Smith’s new contract elevates him into the upper echelon of head coaches in the Big 12 Conference. At the same time Director of Athletics Mike Alden announced in increase in the compensation package for Smith’s assistants which made the MU coaching staff the fourth highest-paid group in the Big 12.
Smith, of course, appreciated the move. “It gives our program a vote of confidence and helps us continue to build a solid foundation for the future. The commitment the University has shown to me and my coaching staff strengthens our resolve to restore the proud tradition of Missouri football.”
The University of Missouri’s 30th head football coach, is a man with a proven record as a winner as a head football coach on the NCAA Division I-A level at three other schools.
During a 23-year head coaching career, Smith has compiled a 140-118-7 career record at Tulane (18-27), Arizona (48-28-3), Southern California (44-25-3) and now Missouri (30-38-1). Eight of the last 13 teams he’s coached have played in post-season bowl games, and his teams have posted 12 victories over teams ranked in the nation’s top-10.
He’s one of only seven active coaches that have taken three teams to bowl games, and has joined Earl Bruce, Lou Holtz and Bill Mallory as the only men to take four different teams to bowl games.
Smith just completed a fourth year stint as a member of the NCAA Football Rules Committee, and was the chairman of the Big 12 Conference football coaches in 1996. He enters his second season as a member of the American Football Coaches Association Board of Trustees.
When Smith was hired at Missouri, he had more Division I-A head coaching experience than any man ever hired by a Big Eight Conference school.
Smith, 60, was out of coaching for a year, after completing a six-year term at USC, where he won three Pacific-10 Conference championships and was twice the league’s “Coach of the Year.” He had a six-year conference record of 33-12-2, including a school-record string of 19 consecutive victories at one stretch. He was only the second coach in USC history to take his first four teams to bowl games.
During his tenure at Arizona, Smith posted six consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1923, had five straight wins over arch-rival Arizona State for the first time since 1948 and had four consecutive seasons with seven or more victories for the first time in school history.
At Tulane, his program made steady improvement in the win-loss column each year, culminating in a 9-3 Liberty Bowl season in 1979.
Smith stressed upon his arrival in Columbia that MU would play a physical brand of football. “I was born and raised on single-wing football. That is not fancy stuff,” he said. “ You just line up and knock the tar out of the guy over you. That’s my philosophy, and that’s the way this team will be coached. I expect to have a football team that will be physical. We’re going to go into every game to do one thing first, and that’s to out-hit the other guy.”
A native of Van Wert, Ohio, Smith attended the U.S. Military Academy in 1957-58, then transferred to Bowling Green State University, where he graduated in 1962, with a bachelor of science degree in mathematics. He was a three-year letterman there, and won all-Mid America Conference honors on two teams that won MAC championships.
He began his coaching career at Lima Shawnee High School in Lima, Ohio, winning league championships in 1964 and 1966. He moved to the collegiate ranks in 1967, on Bo Schembechler’s staff at Miami (Ohio), coaching outside linebackers. He went to Michigan with Schembechler in 1969, and coached the offensive line for the Wolverines from 1969-72.
In 1973, he joined Head Coach Jim Young at Arizona, and served as linebacker coach, defensive coordinator and assistant head coach from 1973-75, before getting his first head coaching opportunity at Tulane.
Smith and his wife Cheryl are the parents of two children — daughter Alicia (29) and son Corby (27). Corby, a former quarterback at USC and Iowa, spent two years as a graduate assistant on his father’s coaching staff at Mizzou, working one year with the defense and one with the offense. Now Corby is in his third year as a fulltime member of the staff, coaching the Tiger tight ends and special teams.
Smith is also the proud grandfather of two. His grandson, Preston is one year old while his daughter Alicia gave birth to her first child, Lauren Nicole Gaston, last November.
Smith and his wife, Cheryl, are active in charitable pursuits in the Columbia area. Smith has made the Central Missouri Food Bank the beneficiary of a food drive each spring in conjunction with Mizzou’s Black-and-Gold Game, and that program has carried over to a statewide program — “Larry Smith’s Tigers Score Against Hunger.” Football fans are called on to pledge a specific dollar amount ranging from a nickel to $10 or more for every point scored by the Tigers during the season. All proceeds benefit food banks located in Kansas City, St. Joseph, Springfield, Columbia, St. Louis and Sikeston.
Smith is also the chairman of a campaign to raise money for the University of Missouri’s four-campus library system. He’s pledged to help raise $3 million over a three-year period for UM libraries.
“Having a great library is the foundation of a great university — just like having a great quarterback is the foundation of a football team,” he says. “One of the goals of our football program is to see each one of the athletes earn a degree. This is a way I can lend support to a great cause.”
Smith is also a sponsor for muscular distrophy and has hosted a fund-raising golf tournament each of the last seven years. Smith’s tournament has helped raise over $100,000.
Cheryl, too, has become a community leader. She worked as the executive director of the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (RAIN), which provides emotional care to HIV/AIDS patients and seeks through education to prevent the spread of the disease.
She also runs a football class for women, something she has since 1976.
Bowling Green State University, 1962, B.S., Mathematics
Bowling Green State University, 1967, M.Ed., School Administration
Van Wert High School, Van Wert, Ohio (football, basketball, baseball)
U.S. Military Academy (football)
Bowling Green State University (football)
Assistant Football Coach, Freshman Basketball Coach, Junior High Track Coach, Lima Shawnee High School, Lima, Ohio, 1962-63
Head Football Coach, Lima Shawnee High School, Lima, Ohio, 1964-66
Outside Linebacker Coach, Miami (OH) University, 1967-78
Offensive Line Coach, University of Michigan, 1969-72
Assistant Head Football Coach, Defensive Coordinator, Linebacker Coach, University of Arizona, 1973-76
Head Football Coach, Tulane University, 1976-79
Head Football Coach, University of Arizona, 1980-86
Head Football Coach, University of Southern California, 1987-92
Head Football Coach, University of Missouri, 1994-present
Collegiate Head Coaching Record:
18-27-0 4-year Tulane Record
48-28-3 7-year Arizona Record
44-25-3 6-year Southern California Record
30-38-1 6-year Missouri Record
140-118-7 (.528) 23-year Career record
1976 Tulane 2-9
1977 Tulane 3-8
1978 Tulane 4-7
1979 Tulane *9-3
1980 Arizona 5-6
1981 Arizona 6-5
1982 Arizona 6-4-1
1983 Arizona 7-3-1
1984 Arizona 7-4
1985 Arizona *8-3-1
1986 Arizona *9-3
1987 Southern California *8-4
1988 Southern California *10-2
1989 Southern California *9-2-1
1990 Southern California *8-4-1
1991 Southern California 3-8
1992 Southern California *6-5-1
1994 Missouri 3-8-1
1995 Missouri 3-8
1996 Missouri 5-6
1997 Missouri *7-5
1998 Missouri *8-4
1999 Missouri 4-7
* — indicates bowl seasons.
Birthdate: September 12, 1939
Marital Status: Married, wife Cheryl
Children: Alicia (29), Corby (27)
Grandchildren: Preston (1), Lauren (8 months)