Retirement isn't Smith's option play

The third quarter had just expired Saturday, and his Hampton Crabbers led by four touchdowns. But one of Mike Smith's offensive linemen had whiffed on a block, and the "old geezer" of a head coach was not pleased.

"I'm gonna hit you in the mouth," Smith growled as Monte Haney came to the sideline. "You gotta hit the linebacker."

Smith tapped Haney on the helmet with his laminated game plan, walked away and cracked that trademark devilish grin.

Think Mike Smith has lost his fastball? Figure that at age 67 he's plotting retirement and Kumbaya moments with Bill Dee and the Peninsula Football Officials Association?

Anyone who watched the Crabbers give Smith his 400th coaching victory Saturday knows better.

The final at Darling Stadium was 35-0. The victim was Indian River in the opening round of the Eastern Region Division 5 playoffs.

How fitting on three counts.

First, the shutout. If nothing else, Smith's 38 seasons as Hampton's big whistle have been about defense, and this marked his 173rd shutout.

Noodle that for a moment. In nearly half of his victories, the opponent didn't scratch.

Second, the playoff stage. Smith's teams have won 12 state championships and are 67-20 in postseason, when teams and coaches prove their mettle.

Third, the elements. Rain fell throughout the first 21/2 quarters, creating the swampy conditions old-school coaches relish. But then the sun emerged, a reminder that Smith can be as mercurial as the weather.

Consider his outburst late in the second quarter. Puzzled by a holding penalty, he asked — politely, of course (wink, wink) — line judge Tyrone Goodwyn the number of the offending player. Goodwyn declined.

Next thing you knew, Smith and assistant coach Danny Mitchell were barking at Goodwyn, who flagged Smith for unsportsmanlike conduct and raised an arm as if to eject him. Turns out he was just ordering Smith to back off the field.

Can you imagine Smith getting pitched from his 400th? We joked in the press box that since he hadn't completed half the game, Mitchell would get credit for the victory and that Smith would be stuck at 399.

"I wish it was 200," Smith said, "and I was young enough to win 200 more. All 400 means is you're an old geezer."

Old, perhaps. Geezer, no way.

He's not the early riser of his prime, and not as quick with names. But he still revels in the competition and teaching.

His 400 wins rank seventh all-time, fifth among active coaches. His .870 winning percentage (400-59-2) towers over record-holder John McKissick, who in 57 seasons at Summerville High in South Carolina is 565-132-13 (.805).

"He's toned down a little bit," assistant coach and former Hampton linebacker Myron Newsome said. "But he's still that fired-up guy. He's still got a lot left in the tank. He still loves the game."

Smith strolled onto the field Saturday at 10:43 a.m., 67 minutes before kickoff. He walked quietly with his son Bryan, a former Hampton kicker who traveled from his Northern Virginia home for the occasion.

He inspected the field, chatted with Indian River coach Cadillac Harris and even talked on his cell phone. If the man was nervous, he sure masked it well.

Smith's only dicey decision came early in the second quarter. The Crabbers faced fourth-and-2 at the Braves' 10, and Smith didn't even ponder a field goal, instead whispering a play to quarterback David Watford.

Running back Tron Martinez took the subsequent option pitch around right end for 10 yards and the game's first points.

So how long does Smith go? If McKissick and Joe Paterno still are winning in their early 80s …

"I don't see any end in sight," Bryan Smith said. "He tried (retirement) before, and it lasted three weeks."

Indeed, Smith announced his impending exit midway through the 2002 season. Then common sense prevailed.

He missed a 2003 playoff loss to Phoebus after emergency gallbladder surgery two days before the game but otherwise has been blessed with good health. Two years later, Smith notched his 12th state title and vowed to start on the next dozen.

This has been a rebuilding season, and even if Hampton survives undefeated Lake Taylor in Friday's region semifinals, a rematch with Phoebus looms in the final. The Phantoms and Dee whacked the Crabbers 42-6 last month, the second-worst defeat of Smith's career.

So don't book on a 13th state banner this year. But Smith likes his sophomore class and figures he'll be tough to beat in 2009 and 2010.

After that, his grandson Trevor, who plays youth ball in Hampton, will be approaching high school age. No, retirement doesn't seem near for a lifelong coach with no golfing jones or other hobbies.

"What else," he asked, "would I be doing?"

"Driving my mother nuts," Bryan answered.

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or at For more from Teel, read his blog at

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