Legendary coach Smith welcomes return to McKeesport
George Smith's second go-round as football coach at McKeesport feels much like his first time on the Tigers' sideline.
But there's been at least one notable exception — his players, none of whom were in high school when he last led the program, have had to adjust to his methodical coaching style.
“They'll be no walk-throughs in practices,” said Smith, rehired in January to succeed Jim Ward, on the eve of McKeesport's opener Friday night at Hempfield. “It's not our style. We've been sweating it out, working very hard.”
Smith recalled a conversation he had with former McKeesport star Brandon Short in 1994, when the Tigers won the first of two PIAA championships. Short convinced Smith to have the team wear full pads on the day before games.
“Brandon said, ‘We've got to go full speed if we're going to be a good team,' ” Smith said. “I decided to do that, and I've been doing it ever since. Same goes for Mondays after the weekend and before we scrimmage. We're not going to be coming out on Mondays and Thursdays with walk-throughs, like a lot of people do. Mondays and Thursdays are full pads, just like the other days.
“Hopefully, if we keep sweating it out and continue to work as hard as we can, by the second half of the season, we'll be a good team.”
Smith and his former longtime offensive coordinator, Jamie Eckels, have been preparing McKeesport for the chance to confound opponents' defenses with their trademark option flexbone.
Senior quarterback David Queen will get the nod to run the set when McKeesport plays Hempfield in a WPIAL Class AAAA Quad East game.
“He's gotten most of the snaps in practice this week,” Smith said.
Queen beat out junior TyWann Smith, who will switch to wide receiver.
“TyWann is a very good athlete. He was just having some trouble taking snaps,” said Smith, who is three victories shy of 200 for his career.
Is Smith nervous in his 29th season overall with the Tigers following a three-year period in which he was out of coaching?
“No, not at all,” he said. “I feel dead. It's been a long preseason. It's been a grind. There's been a lot of teaching and a lot of intensity in practice. We're very intense as a coaching staff.”
Smith will be going against a familiar face at Hempfield, coached by former Serra Catholic star Rich Bowen, a White Oak native and former coach of his alma mater, as well as Elizabeth Forward and Yough.
“It was a great move to get George back at McKeesport,” said Bowen, who led Hempfield to a surprising 33-18 victory at McKeesport in the 2012 opener. “I'm a McKeesport guy. I know just what that means to the community.
“Those guys are the masters at making that offense work,” said Bowen, in his second season at Hempfield.
McKeesport compiled a three-year record of 19-11 under Ward. But the Tigers went 5-5 last season and lost in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs for the third year in a row.
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.