Word is beginning to filter down that Coach Smith passed away today after a long bout with multiple illnesses. As someone who was in school from 1995-2000, Coach Smith and his teams obviously played a big part of my college experience, and here are some thoughts.
I will forever remember the image of Coach Smith on television from the '97 NU game, tears in his eyes. It was something I did not understand really until this past season actually when we had such a special season. The emotion that kind of play can elicit was something, as a 20 year old, I knew not of. As a 30 year old, I now appreciate it.
I was there that day on the field for Coach Smith's final game, working as a member of the Athletic Department and escoring the honorary Coach for the day. Some Mizzou fans will remember the agony that was that K-state game, when we were SO overmatched, but hung in there all the way until the famous defensive delay of game on the punt helped KSU ice the game. In the locker room afterwards, I had said goodbye to the honorary coach, but hung around. The emotion was still there. Coach Smith must have known it was to be his final game....it was no way for him to leave, considering the magic he helped us capture in 1997 and 1998. But alas, we caught no player or personnel breaks from that point on and 2001 brought about the end of his coaching career.
I grew to be friends with many of the players from that era, and remain so to this day with a couple. My hearts go out to them as they were so devoted to the man, and rightly so. We may all chuckle at the "Bounce Back Beat Baylor" or sledgehammering that large stone on the practice field stories, but the man came in here with honor and integrity, pledged to get us back on the map of college football, and did just that.
My thoughts, prayers and warm wishes go out to his family at this time. He was a great Coach, but a better man in my contact with him. I thank him for what he did for my alma mater and wish him peace.
UPDATE, 5:02pm: Hey, this is The Boy. Below is ZouDave's 1997 NU-MU video. Cue it up to 2:49, and you'll see the image I always see when I think of Larry. The Beef is exactly right--we all know what happened in '99 and '00, and I don't think anybody was disputing that Larry should have been let go at that point, but the pride that drove us crazy at times near the end of his tenure was what I (and most of the state) loved most about him in '97 and '98, and never was it on display more than in early-November '97 at Faurot Field. Rest in peace, Larry.
UPDATE, 5:59pm: Mutigers.com has posted reactions from some of Larry's former players and colleagues.
Mike Kelly, Voice of the Tigers
"Larry was an incredible person who wore his emotions on his sleeve, you always knew how he felt about in issue. He loved his players to the ultimate degree. He will go down as guy who helped give Missouri fans hope in a short amount of time."