Smith calls it quits
After more than 50 years and 227 wins, Jim Smith is calling it a career.
The 81-year-old football coach announced Monday that he is retiring from Mohawk Trail Regional High School, thus ending a 56-year career. Although he admits it’s difficult to walk away from a sport that’s provided him so many fond memories, he and wife Carole, married nearly 52 years, are excited to spend time with the family, including 18 grandchildren.
“I’m 39-years-old you know, so I thought it was time,” Smith joked. “We’ve got a lot of grandkids coming along and family commitments are a good excuse.”
Smith said he enjoyed coaching right to the end, but over the past two years, some of the late-season road games began to wear on him.
“Those Friday night away games, especially when it was cold, I didn’t enjoy those too much, and then you’d have to bump around on the bus ride home,” he said.
The other decision-making factor Smith took into account is that the Warriors are bringing back the entire line from last season, something that should help his successor.
“We’ve got a whole line coming back so I’m not leaving the new guy high and dry,” he explained.
The Brainerd, Minn., native began playing football in his youth and made his high school varsity team as a sophomore in the fall of 1946. He wound up in the Army after graduating but continued to play football, including one game in the fall of 1952 that matched his Ft. Leonard Wood (Mo.) team against a Fort Riley (Kan.) team he said was loaded with Big 10 football players. The only year he has not been on a football field in some capacity since 1946 came in 1953, while serving in Korea. Upon his return, Smith went to college at South Dakota State University on the G.I. Bill and played for a year. His first coaching job came at a high school in Huntley, Minn., which was smaller than Mohawk, but he decided to go to grad school and moved to Illinois University, where he coached the school’s freshman team.
As Smith was finishing up his final year at Illinois, the line coach at the school, Chuck Studley, was hired as head coach at UMass. Smith said he was hoping that Studley would include him as part of his staff at UMass, and when he took a phone call from Studley, he got his hopes up. As luck would have it, Studley was calling to tell him about an opening at a Pioneer Valley private school down the road called Deerfield Academy. Little did he know that when he accepted the job in the fall of 1960, he would stay for 36 years.
Smith coached at Deerfield Academy from 1960 until 1995, compiling a 175-88-12 record. His success led to the school naming its football field in his honor, and helped earn him a spot in the Massachusetts High School Football Hall of Fame, to which he was nominated in 2007. The coach talks about his time at DA with great reverence, but after everything, he can sum up his time in Deerfield with a few words, calling it “the greatest experience I’ve ever had.”
Smith retired from DA following the ‘95 season but soon returned to the gridiron in the fall of 1997 when he took over the Franklin County Technical School job. That season, Smith took the two-year-old program (which was playing in its first varsity season) to a 7-3 record and landed the Eagles in the Central-Western Mass. Division IIIA Super Bowl, where they lost to Oxford High School. Smith stayed at the Turners Falls school, no football factory by any stretch of the imagination, and finished with an 18-40 record over six seasons.
The Shelburne Falls resident left Tech following the 2002 season and began his final coaching stint at Mohawk in 2004, remaining for the past nine seasons and compiling a 33-43 record.
Now, the man best known for not only producing great football players but great gentlemen as well walks away from the game, at least on the head-coaching level. He plans to continue attending games, both at the high school level and for those in which his grandchildren are competing. Only from now on, he’ll just be a fan.