Coaching “Genius” Homer Smith Is Gone

The use of the term “genius” to describe the abilities of someone who coordinates the movement of guys wearing jockstraps always seemed a bit out of touch with reality.

There was one exception – Homer Smith.

On Sunday, Smith passed away at his home in Tuscaloosa, Alabama after suffering through a long illness. He was 79 years old. A Nebraska native, Smith retired after the 1996 college season ending 38 years in the business. All but one of those coaching seasons was spent in college football.

His only exposure to the NFL came in 1987, when long-time friend Frank Gansz convinced him to join the Chiefs coaching staff. It would not prove to be a successful time for the Chiefs, Gansz or Smith and within days of the end of that ’87 season, Smith was back in college football.

When he showed up at Arrowhead Stadium, Smith’s reputation preceded him. He was not just another guy with a projector and a binder filled with x’s and o’s. He was a man who had taken offensive football to another level of thought. He was considered by all who coached with him as an offensive genius, a coach that could teach and coordinate offensive players better than just about anybody in the business.

But then, what else would have been expected from a guy with degrees from Princeton, Harvard and Stanford. That’s right, three of the most decorated institutions of higher learning in the world, and Smith had graduating paper from all three. He earned his undergraduate degree from Princeton, a MBA from Stanford and he actually quit coaching for a year (1979) and went back to school, spending the time at Harvard and earning a Master’s degree in Theological Studies. 

Religion, business, philosophy, literature – they were all areas where Smith could speak with knowledge and perspective. But it was football, specifically offensive football that excited him and got his brain churning with ideas. That’s what led him to author a long list of football books like The Football Coach’s Complete Offensive Playbook, The Handbook for Coaching the Football Passing Attack, Installing Football’s Wishbone T Attack, The Complete Handbook of Clock Management and others. He even wrote a novel a few years back. Of course, it involved football.

Offensive football coaches swore by Smith and his work. Those books have been read by thousands of young coaches who have taken his offensive thoughts and philosophies and translated them into their own schemes at all levels of the game.

This was a man who did not process thought like normal football coaches, or normal people. He was one of those guys that heard a rattle in his car and he’d rip the whole thing apart attempting to fix one small problem. His office light would burn well into the night as he wrapped his fertile brain around an offensive concept.

He would get so involved that ordinary, everyday things would be forgotten. He was “Mr. Magoo” and stories of his myopic mind are legendary around Arrowhead. There was a time when he was calling plays that season and was so distracted by what was happening, he turned his back to the field and so he could call the plays.

One winter night a heavy snow had rolled into Kansas City and at dinner time, Smith decided he was going to go out and brush the snow off his car. The idea was that when he was ready to go home in a few hours the chore would already be finished.

The next morning running backs coach Billie Matthews came into the office and told the coaching staff secretaries how it was the strangest thing – he’d gone out the night before to his car and somebody had cleaned all the snow off.

There was the time when one of the team’s couriers was sent to KCI Airport to pick up Smith. At the appropriate time, the young man was in the Terminal B and greeted the coach as he got off the plane. They walked to the car and the courier asked him where he’d like to go. That’s when Smith said he needed to be dropped at Terminal C, because that’s where he had left his car.

I’m not sure that Homer Smith ever felt at home in pro football. He spent that year with the Chiefs and the team went 4-11 in a season disrupted by a players strike and replacement games. The Kansas City offense that season averaged just under 300 yards and less than 20 points per game. When the season was over, he went back to college football, going to Alabama for the first of two stints with the Crimson Tide.

Smith would coach for nine more years, all in the college ranks with Alabama, UCLA and Arizona, before retiring. He spent the last years of his life still involved in football, giving lectures and revising many of his books.

To the end, Homer Smith displayed the No. 1 attribute of any true genius – he never stopped learning.

2 Responses to “Coaching “Genius” Homer Smith Is Gone”

  • April 12, 2011  - Michael says:

    What was Homer Smith’s offensive philosophy? What position did he start out coaching? What changes did it go through over the years? Which current coaches and systems would be counted as coming from the Smith tree?

  • April 12, 2011  - el cid says:

    You may have hit the nail on the head. I once knew a super intelligent person with 4 advanced degrees and, to the best of my knowledge, never had a job, did an extraordinary thing in their entire life, just sort of passed thru being really, really smart. At least Smith was a known factor, that is something I guess.

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