To those who knew him best, Larry Smith was an unquestioned leader with a passion for philanthropy. To those who rooted for his Tigers on Saturdays, he was known as the coach who turned around a struggling football program.
Mr. Smith, who coached the Missouri football team for seven seasons, died Monday, Jan. 28, 2008 in Tuscon, Ariz. He was 68.
Several current members of the MU athletic department who knew Mr. Smith shared their thoughts in a press release.
“I remember Coach Smith as a tremendous leader and motivator,” said Barry Odom, who played for Mr. Smith from 1996 to 1999 and is now the MU assistant athletic director for football operations. “He was a great person, and I think those that knew him will agree that he made each person he came in contact with a better person.”
Mr. Smith was diagnosed with leukemia in 2000, his final year at MU. According to the Arizona Daily Star, Mr. Smith had recently contracted lymphoma and was also battling pneumonia. He died at Northwest Tuscon Hospital, according to the newspaper.
Mr. Smith coached Missouri from 1994-2000. He led the 1997 Tigers to a winning record after 13 consecutive losing seasons. The Tigers earned a berth in the Holiday Bowl that year, and the next season they won the Insight.com Bowl.
“He got Missouri back into bowl games after such a long drought, and he’ll always be remembered fondly for that,” said Andy Hill, a current MU assistant coach who worked under Mr. Smith from 1996-2000.
After the 1998 bowl win, The Tigers won seven games in their next two seasons, and Mr. Smith was fired after the 2000 team finished 3-8. Gary Pinkel was hired as Smith’s replacement.
Smith’s overall record as the Tigers’ coach was 33-46-1.
Before coming to Missouri, Mr. Smith served as head coach at Tulane University (1976-79), the University of Arizona (1980-86) and the University of Southern California (1987-1992).
Mr. Smith led USC to the Rose Bowl in each of his first three seasons there, and the Trojans finished in the Associated Press Top 10 in 1988 and ’89.
“I always had a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Smith and the successes he had at Arizona, USC and Missouri,” Pinkel said. “I followed his career for a long time in the PAC-10, when I was at Washington, I used to coach against him, and I saw him build programs, and I saw the tremendous influence he had on young people. I was always impressed with him as a person and just had a lot of respect for him, and I’m very sorry for his family’s loss.”
MU athletic director Mike Alden said that Mr. Smith’s impact on the university transcended his accomplishments on the football field.
“He did a lot for this university in his short time here, not just on the football field, but in the community, especially with the Central Missouri Food Bank,” Alden said. “He helped raise a lot of money for a very important cause, and he was wholeheartedly behind that. There is no question that he’ll be sadly missed.”
Mr. Smith finished his 24-year head coaching career with an overall record of 143-126-7. He was most recently working as a commentator for the Arizona football team on Fox Sports Net.
Mr. Smith is survived by his wife, Cheryl, and children Corby and Alicia.
Funeral arrangements and memorials are being arranged.