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McKeesport coach maintains low profile as his Tigers face Woodland Hills

| Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, 2:11 a.m.
Christopher Horner
Former McKeesport coach George Smith, seen here on the sideline during a game in 2009, makes his return to Weigle-Shaffer Stadium on Saturday when the Tigers host Woodland Hills.

George Smith doesn't enjoy being in the spotlight, doesn't like being the storyline. According to McKeesport athletic director Charley Kiss, the veteran coach hasn't spoken with any media this week.

Still, the spotlight will very much belong to Smith on Saturday at Weigle-Shaffer Stadium, when the legendary coach returns to the sideline he once roamed for three decades.

Smith might not be interested in trumpeting his return, but the legendary coach in this game — Woodland Hills' George Novak — is delighted to see his old rival back with the Tigers.

A game involving McKeesport and Woodland Hills is newsworthy enough, but the return of Smith clearly gives the Saturday matinee a different feel.

McKeesport, in fact, decided to move this contest to Saturday afternoon because the administration realized what a big deal Smith's first home game back in red and blue would be.

“I'm really looking forward to this,” Novak said. “We all know what a great coach George is, and I consider him a really good friend of mine. I'm really looking forward to looking up and seeing him on the other sideline. It's going to be nice to look over there and see him coaching.”

Smith abruptly resigned more than three years ago following a fallout with the former administration at McKeesport, only to dramatically reclaim his former job in January.

His once-mighty program appears to be regaining much of its luster, also.

Following an impressive training camp that saw McKeesport handle top competition during scrimmages, the Tigers handled a good Hempfield team in a Week 1 road victory.

Novak has read this script before.

“You watch the tape, you see what they're doing under George, and it looks for very familiar,” Novak said. “The flexbone is back.”

Smith has long deployed the flexbone offense, and it was in typical form against Hempfield, producing two 100-yard rushers, which allowed the Tigers to control play throughout the contest.

Defending the offense is a challenge, even for a team as talented as Woodland Hills.

“It's the same old thing,” Novak said. “They run the offense so well, and it's really hard to prepare for. You know some of the things they're going to do, but you really can't simulate in practice what they are able to do. Just looking at what they did against Hempfield and in their scrimmages, it's pretty obvious that they're playing at a very high level right now.”

Novak hopes his Wolverines don't simulate anything from their Week 1 setback against Upper St. Clair.

Woodland Hills, considered by many the WPIAL's most talented team this season, fumbled away an opportunity against Upper St. Clair.

Things don't get much easier this week.

“We certainly have things to improve on,” Novak said. “Last week, we lost the turnover battle and the special teams battle. We know we've got to be better.”

Smith won't be the only big name returning to McKeesport on Saturday.

The 1994 and 2005 McKeesport football teams – both won the WPIAL and PIAA Class AAAA championships under Smith – will be in attendance.

So, too, will be their coach.

“It's going to be great to see him, and it should be a heck of a game,” Novak said. “I look forward to shaking his hand after the game.”

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