Hometown Report

‘Another legend gone’: He cracked jokes, coached into his 90s after leaving mark in Sacramento

Rowland "Red" Smith, second from right, was an athletic director and coach at Jesuit High School in the 1970s. Smith died Tuesday, June 5, 2018, surrounded by family in Tacoma, Wash. He was 95.
Rowland "Red" Smith, second from right, was an athletic director and coach at Jesuit High School in the 1970s. Smith died Tuesday, June 5, 2018, surrounded by family in Tacoma, Wash. He was 95. Jesuit High School

Rowland "Red" Smith planned to coach well into his 70s.

He vowed to share input on blocking and tackling and leadership skills until his body no longer would allow him to amble onto a football field. The old coach exceeded his expectations by some 20 years.

Smith, as beloved for his leadership as he was for his one-liners, died Tuesday afternoon at 95 from a stroke complication, surrounded by family in Tacoma, Wash., the state where he grew up and spent much of his coaching career.

Smith was best known locally for his time at Jesuit High School in the 1970s as an athletic director and coach. He hired Dan Carmazzi in the late '70s to mentor a quarterback – Ken O'Brien – who became a first-round pick. Carmazzi later coached Jesuit to championship success.

Smith coached various high schools in Washington, had assistant coaching stints at Washington State and Oregon State and, in the 1980s, at UC Davis and Chico State, and he dabbled in front-office work in a professional league. Smith also co-authored a book on power football.

Smith was so revered that the Sacramento Valley Chapter of the National Football Foundation created an award in his name for area coaches, after he stepped down as its president a decade ago. He was inducted to the Jesuit High School Hall of Fame in 1995.

"My dad had an old plaque in his office that said, 'Old coaches never die. They just smell that way,'" said Gary Smith, one of Smith's sons.

"That's how Dad lived his life: to coach, to be around football. It was wonderful to have him here the last few years of his life. His sense of humor was incredible. I never met anyone who didn't like him, and that always meant a lot to our family."

Smith often would fire off zingers during practice, in the locker room and especially at awards functions and banquets. He didn't need cue cards. He just needed to see someone ripe for the taking, including himself.

Smith once said he wore his name tag at functions upside down so he could remember who he was. He once told fellow gray-beard coach Frank Negri, a 200-game winner at Foothill High, that Negri was getting taller because "you're growing through your hair." Never mind that Negri had no hair.

Smith could also take a joke.

Dave Hoskins, who has coached regional football for 52 years and knew Smith well, once said of his friend at a banquet, "When you go to church, look at the picture of 'The Last Supper.' Red's the third guy on the left."

Said Hoskins on Wednesday, "I was amazed at Red's football knowledge, and he was a great speaker. He loved coaching kids. Everyone associated with the guy loved the guy. He took care of everyone, a very genuine guy, an eloquent speaker, a great coach and great man. He had everything. And when he got me with a joke, I'd sit there and think, 'I don't know what to say!'"

Smith said the idea of retiring from football never made sense. He was an assistant coach at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma for five years, finally calling it quits in 2014.

"Dad planned to coach until he needed a cane or walker, and sure enough, that's what he did," said Gary Smith.

Smith was one of the first to crack the 2-minute barrier in the half-mile in Washington, doing so at Broadway High in Seattle. He was a B-25 tail gunner in World War II and survived two bouts of malaria in the Pacific.

"War is real stress," Smith once told The Bee, adding that he had nicknames for players and coaches to ease tension. "Football isn't stress. Football should be fun at every level. If it's not fun, why do it?"

Smith was on a first-name basis with some of the sport's biggest names, including Dee Andros, Rich Brooks, Don Coryell, Al Davis, Bob Devaney and John McKay. Smith joked about his ill-fated time as assistant general manager with the Portland Storm of the fast-sinking World Football League in the early 1970s, comparing it to, "scrambling on the Titanic."

After the WFL, Smith headed to Jesuit for a new challenge, which led to stints at UC Davis and Chico State.

"I don't play golf so I didn't retire (from coaching football)," Smith told The Bee years ago. "I just use that as a cop-out. I coach because I like working with young people."

Smith's appointment of Carmazzi as head coach of Jesuit in 1981 was one of the region's great finds. Smith initially hired Hoskins as an assistant in 1977, but Hoskins got out of the contract to accept a coaching and teaching position at new Valley High, located a mile from his home. Smith asked Hoskins for a recommendation.

He suggested Carmazzi, who played quarterback at Christian Brothers in the early 1970s and at UC Davis. In 1977, Carmazzi left his desk job with the state and turned a so-so Jesuit program into a powerhouse, winning more than 200 games before returning to CBS to coach and retiring two years ago.

"I owe a lot to Red Smith," Carmazzi once said. "He changed my life."

He changed a lot of lives. Smith had Carmazzi in 1977 mentor young quarterback O'Brien, who went on to excel at UC Davis and was part of the famed 1983 NFL quarterback draft. O'Brien played 10 seasons for the Jets.

"Red was great for me," said O'Brien, now in financial planning in Manhattan Beach. "He was a great teacher, a great mentor, a great friend. What I learned from Red was that it's not just about X's and O's, but it's about the people.

"What a life. He had a great life, and we'll miss him. Another legend gone."

The area has lost several legendary high school football coaches in recent years, including Erv Hatzenbuhler, Gerry Kundert, Joe Miller and Dick Sperbeck. Smith's funeral services are pending.