McKeesport's Smith named Daily News Coach of the Year
Beat 'em with kindness. There's really no other way for George Smith.
With the Hall of Fame football coach back on the McKeesport sideline this season, the “kindness” was flowing from start to finish while the Tigers were rolling unbeaten through their regular-season schedule en route to a 16th consecutive WPIAL playoff appearance.
Beat 'em with kindness. That's what Smith's Tigers did all right.
Though there were playoff appearances in former coach Jim Ward's three seasons, this current group rallied from a 5-5 record in 2012, responding to Smith's return with a 10-1 mark — putting him over 200 career victories — and helping him earn the 2013 Daily News Coach of the Year honors.
“I received a letter from a former resident who's now living in the Washington, D.C., area,” Smith said. “I don't know him, but he had some really nice things to say about our team.”
The author alluded to qualities such as sportsmanship, class and integrity.
“He said he saw our game against Gateway on TV,” said Smith, referring to McKeesport's 49-12 victory in the Oct. 24 regular-season finale. “He said he saw players who played the game with class. He said he saw no taunting, no hot-dogging, no compromising class and integrity — just a high level of sportsmanship.
“I'm very proud of that. I'd never gotten a letter like that before.”
After Smith's return to McKeesport's storied program from the three-year absence, he laid down a “kindness” law during a preseason scrimmage against Penn Hills.
It happened when Smith witnessed some tasteless actions by his team after an injury to a Penn Hills player.
“We made some hard hits, some real good hits,” Smith said. “One of the Penn Hills kids was down, and I didn't like how we responded. I got our guys together in the middle of the field and I made them lay down on their stomachs. I told them, ‘You're embarrassing me and yourselves.' After that, they sort of got the message: The best thing is to help them out, pat them on the butt, then knock the hell out of them on the next play. That's the best way.”
According to McKeesport athletic director Charley Kiss, the Tigers made a noticeable attitude adjustment following Smith's second coming. But it wasn't without the coach's prodding.
“It took about every ounce of coaching that staff had to get those kids going,” Kiss said. “Those guys put a lot of pressure on those players.”
Smith further illustrated his “kindness” approach by relating to a scenario while playing football at North Carolina State.
Prior to McKeesport's first regular-season game, Smith explained that N.C. State faced Penn State in 1969 and '71, and the Nittany Lions were a different sort of bunch than what he and his college teammates had been used to.
“We played hotshot teams that were always talking,” Smith said. “I told our guys that when you played Penn State, they didn't talk to you. They couldn't care less. They were on a mission. We needed to be on a mission. We can't talk a good game to (opponents). If they don't want helped up, put your hands up and pull away. At least you made the effort. Now you're not backing down.
“I think the message really came across.”
Following the resounding victory over Gateway, McKeesport won its first-round playoff game before Smith's initial year back ended with a WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinal loss to Penn-Trafford.
And while it didn't diminish his enthusiasm, it did leave him with a bit of an empty feeling.
“I have this thing in me. I don't know if it's that good,” he said. “It's when you win it all, that last game. When you win two state championships (as Smith's teams had done during his first stint at McKeesport), sometimes it gets to me. It's an unquenchable thirst. This season was tremendous, but I've still got the unquenchable thirst.”
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.