Smith returns to coach McKeesport football
For George Smith, the reason was simple.
Nearly three years to the day after he suddenly resigned following 28 years as McKeesport's football coach and subsequently saying there was “no chance” of him ever returning, Smith will be back on the sidelines at Weigle-Schaeffer Memorial Stadium for one reason — and one reason alone.
“Pride,” he said. “For me, it was all about pride. Sure, I missed it, but I was able to live without it. It was all about pride. I live here, and I want to get this program back where it was.”
Smith, 63, was approved by an 8-0 vote at Wednesday's school board meeting at a salary of $7,493.67. School board member Mark Holtzman was absent.
“I think the district needed a shot in the arm,” school director and co-chair of the athletic committee Christopher Halaszynski said. “I think it was a big win for the school district. His resume speaks for itself.”
Smith won 197 games, two WPIAL and two state titles in nearly three decades with the Tigers.
“I would like to say welcome home, coach,” board president Patricia Maksin said following the final yes vote. “The football coach might be fairly low on the priority list, but not at McKeesport. I am sure there were more public comment and opinion about this than anything else during my tenure on this board.”
Smith replaced Jim Ward, who resigned in early December after a 19-11 record in three years, including 15-5 in conference play.
Under Ward, the Tigers advanced to the playoffs all three years but lost in the first round each season. McKeesport went 5-5 this year with a first-round playoff loss to Bethel Park.
But what concerned administrators was the lack of support from the community and the lack of participation in the terms of numbers.
McKeesport had fewer than 40 players on its roster by the end of the season.
“I felt that right now that the program wasn't moving in the right direction,” Smith said. “I was disappointed in the way things have gone since I left. I didn't want to see the program go totally downhill, so I thought maybe I can make a contribution over the next few years.”
Smith's ultimate plan is to get the program heading in the right direction before turning it over to somebody else.
“The proper way to do it is to make sure the program is in good standing and then walk away,” Smith said. “Having somebody come in who understood what you accomplished and what you are trying to do and if they would come and continue what you are doing what be the perfect scenario.”
It was a plan he never had a chance to execute after having a fallout with the former administration three years ago over a multitude of things, including salary of assistants, salary for a weight room supervisor and an upgrade to the facilities.
Smith wouldn't say specifically what concessions he and the district made on the issues but was happy with what was proposed to him.
“They worked on it quite a bit,” Smith said. “These guys were really helpful with that. You can't beat a dead horse, you know? It was a mutual kind of thing, and we came to some terms.”
Smith's first order of business is to rebuild the middle school team that's had small numbers the past year. Right now, Smith said that's his only goal.
“The wins and losses will take care of themselves, I am not even concerned about that,” Smith said. “I accomplished everything as far as my goals are concerned. My only goals I've set right now is to get the numbers back up.”
Smith said the expects most of his former staff to return along with adding an infusion of young assistants. He is hoping his longtime offensive coordinator Jamie Eckels, who resigned at Serra last week, will be one of them but is unsure.
Even if Eckels doesn't return, Smith expects to continue with the flexbone offense that McKeesport ran for nearly 20 years.
“It's difficult because I don't know any of these kids yet,” Smith said. “But we are going to try to get the best athletes in the school playing football again. Everything else will take care of itself.”