Larry Smith (1939-2008)

Johnny Cruz
Jan. 28, 2008

Former University of Arizona football coach Larry Smith passed away on Monday after a battle with cancer. He was 68.

Smith, whose fervor for the game and focus on what he often simply called "running and hitting," helped Arizona emerge in the early 1980s to become a competitive member of the Pacific-10 Conference. He was Arizona's head coach from 1980 to 1986.

"It's a sad day for Wildcats past, present and future," UA director of athletics Jim Livengood said. "Larry was part of a great tradition at the UA and helped so many young student-athletes be successful playing football and later in life. His love for college football was as big as the emotion that he wore on his sleeve."

Smith was head coach at Tulane prior to accepting the head job at UA, went on to lead Southern California to three Rose Bowls in a 1987-92 stint and later was head coach at Missouri and led the Tigers to back-to-back bowls. He posted an all-time coaching record of 143-126-7.

His Arizona squads combined for a 48-28-3 mark including a 9-3 mark in his final season. He led UA to bowl appearances (Aloha) that season and the previous year (Sun Bowl) when the team finished 8-3-1.

Smith put a big emphasis on in-state recruiting, and put a huge premium on the game with in-state rival Arizona State.

Smith's first club was drubbed 44-7 by the Sun Devils in 1980, narrowly lost to ASU in Tempe a year later, then embarked on the beginning of a nine-year odyssey thereafter. UA beat ASU from 1982 under Smith and continued unbeaten under Dick Tomey from 1987-91. The nine-game span – known as The Streak" – is as revered an accomplishment as any in UA athletics lore.

Smith coached two-time consensus All-American linebacker Ricky Hunley and six other Wildcats who earned some All-American recognition – Hunley's younger brother, Lamonte, safety Allan Durden, placekicker Max Zendejas, linebacker Byron Evans, center Joe Tofflemire and safety Chuck Cecil. More than 20 of his UA players went on to play professionally.

Ricky Hunley (1983) and Byron Evans (1986) won the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year honor – as did two other Smith-recruited players, Cecil (1987) and Dana Wells (1988). Eighteen of his players earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors.

Smith, a native of Van Wert, Ohio, starred in three sports at Van Wert high School and was accepted to the U.S. Military Academy, but transferred to Miami of Ohio, where he played football for three years. He joined the college coaching ranks as an assistant to Bo Schembechler at Miami of Ohio.

He was at Michigan for three years and when UM assistant Jim Young took the Arizona head job in 1973, Smith joined him as defensive coordinator until taking over at Tulane in 1976. Four years later he took over for Young in Tucson.

After retiring following his stint at Missouri, Smith returned to Tucson. He served as a color analyst for televised UA games in 2005.

Smith is survived by his wife, the former Cheryl Nueenschwander, son Corby and daughter Alicia, and several grandchildren.

Services are pending.