Former Tulane football head coach Larry Smith, who led the Green Wave to 18 victories from 1976-79 and an appearance in the 1979 Liberty Bowl, passed away in Tucson, Ariz., after a lengthy battle with leukemia.
Jan. 28, 2008
NEW ORLEANS, La. - Former Tulane University head football coach Larry Smith died Monday at a Tucson, Ariz., hospital following a lengthy battle with leukemia. He was 68 years old.
Smith coached at Tulane from 1976-79 and led the Green Wave to 18 victories. He took over a program that had won a combined nine games in the two seasons prior to his arrival and transformed the Green Wave into a nine-win team and a bowl contender by his fourth season.
"I knew Larry very well and I have the utmost respect for him," Tulane head coach Bob Toledo said. "He was the head coach when I was at the University of Pacific and we used to play each other. Later on, I was at Oregon when he coached at both Arizona and USC. He tried to hire me as the offensive coordinator at Missouri when I was at Texas A&M, but I received a call from Jim Donnan at UCLA the same day and ended up going back to the West Coast. Larry was a very good friend and I am saddened to hear of his passing."
Smith's best season with the Wave was his last in 1979 when he led Tulane to a 9-3 overall record that included wins over No. 13 Stanford, No. 19 SMU and the 20th-ranked Green Wave topped LSU in the regular season finale, 24-13, at the Louisiana Superdome.
The crowd of 73,496 on hand at the Dome on Nov. 17, 1979, remains the highest attendance to see the Green Wave play at the Superdome. Tulane advanced to the 1979 Liberty Bowl, its first bowl in six years, but dropped a 9-6 decision to Penn State in what would be Smith's final game.
Ten Tulane players earned All-America honors during Smith's tenure, including two-time All-Americans Roch Hontas and Eddie Murray (1978 and 1979). Other players to earn All-America honors under Smith are defensive back Martin Mitchell (1976), offensive tackle Eric Laakso (1977), center Dee Methvin (1978), wide receiver Alton Alexis (1979), Center Chris Doyle (1979), defensive end Bob Becnel (1979), nose guard Wilfred Simon (1979) and tight end Rodney Holman (1979).
In addition, Smith sent six players to the NFL as Mitchell was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1977, Laakso was taken by the Miami Dolphins in 1978, Methvins (Cleveland Browns) and defensive back Ricky Smith (Oakland Raiders) were drafted in 1979, while Murray (Detroit Lions) and Alexis (Cincinnati Bengals) got picked in 1980.
Following the `79 campaign, Smith accepted the head coaching position at the University of Arizona, where he led the Wildcats to a record of 48-28-3 during his seven seasons in Tucson. Following the 1986 campaign, he took over the reins of the USC football program from 1987-92 and led the Trojans to Rose Bowl appearances in his first three seasons.
Smith concluded his career at Missouri where he led the Tigers to back-to-back bowl games in the late 1990s. Smith registered a 143-126-7 overall record and his teams appeared in 10 bowl games in which he was 3-6-1.
A native of Van Wert, Ohio, Smith starred in three sports at Van Wert high School and was accepted to the U.S. Military Academy, but transferred to Miami (Ohio), where he played football for three seasons. He began his coaching career in the prep ranks at Shawnee High School in Lima, Ohio, and then joined the college ranks as an assistant to Bo Schembechler at Miami University.
Smith then rejoined Schembechler at Michigan for three seasons. When Wolverines assistant Jim Young accepted the Arizona head job in 1973, Young hired Smith as defensive coordinator until taking over at Tulane in 1976.
Smith is survived by his wife, the former Cheryl Nueenschwander, son Corby and daughter Alicia, and several grandchildren.