Gorman: Terry Smith finds perfect fit on Penn State coaching staff
UNIVERSITY PARK — Terry Smith looked sharp for his introductory news conference, dressed in a tailored, charcoal suit with a silver paisley tie and embroidered cuffs bearing his nickname, T. Smalls.
Smith also appears to be custom-made for James Franklin's coaching staff at Penn State, which is boisterous and full of bravado.
It's funny how the same traits Gateway High School used as an excuse to undercut Smith as its athletic director and football coach have endeared him to Franklin, who vowed Friday to have assembled “the most aggressive recruiting staff in America.”
“Some guys have a presence,” said Franklin, who met Smith as a Maryland assistant. “When you walk in, he has a presence. You see how all the students interact with him, how the administration interacts with him, the pride and respect they have for him. The guy is special, and I knew that right away.”
Of Penn State's nine assistants, Smith is the only one who never has coached with Franklin. But Franklin keeps a list of people he wants to hire, and Smith was on it.
Franklin called Smith's hiring a “no-brainer.”
“For us to be able to get a guy with really strong Penn State ties on our staff was very, very important,” he said. “I'm excited about what he's going to bring to the table.”
An undersized receiver who still ranks among the Nittany Lions' top 10, Smith has school ties that span several generations. His father, Harvey, and stepson, Justin King, are Penn State graduates. That helps Smith serve as a link to Penn State's past and future.
Smith got into coaching at his alma mater, Gateway, after a recommendation from Joe Paterno. It's a small world that sees Smith return to his other alma mater, Penn State.
“It means everything to me,” Smith said. “It's not just a job for me. It's a passion. It's something I love to do.
“I represent a lot of voices. I represent a lot of alumni. For me to have this opportunity, I'm tremendously blessed.”
The scenario is beyond Smith's wildest dreams, given that he thought he would coach at Gateway “forever.”
The first black athletic director and football coach at a WPIAL Class AAAA school, Smith developed 70 Division I athletes and won 101 games in 11 seasons. But he became notorious for attracting transfers and losing in four WPIAL finals.
The Gateway school board reduced his athletic director job to half-time status, took away his benefits and passed a rule that administrators couldn't coach. In January 2013, Temple coach Matt Rhule, a former Penn State linebacker, hired Smith as his receivers coach.
When Franklin was looking to finalize his Penn State staff, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop remembered a mental note he made after Temple linebackers coach Mike Siravo raved about Smith's professionalism and coaching ability.
“I'd go into Gateway High School, and he'd be very professional, very organized, very prepared,” said Shoop, an Oakmont native. “He's someone you knew, has Western Pennsylvania ties, is an outstanding recruiter, and the guy's been a head coach and can coach numerous positions and give us versatility and flexibility on the staff.”
On the drive back to Philadelphia after his Jan. 15 interview, Smith learned of the sudden death of his dear friend and former Gateway teammate, Curtis Bray.
So even earning his dream job had a bittersweet moment.
Smith will coach cornerbacks and serve as defensive recruiting coordinator. He should be dynamic, having gone through the process as a player, parent, high school coach and college assistant.
Smith hopes to fill Tom Bradley's shoes as Penn State's ace WPIAL recruiter, knowing he might have to rebuild some bridges burned at Gateway along the way.
“My role is to secure Pittsburgh and Western Pa.,” Smith said. “Any top talent there, I've got to get it. That's my responsibility. I'm a diligent worker, and I'm going to work hard to establish the boundaries of Western Pa. so that Penn State gets the chosen ones.”
That's not something T. Smalls just says off the cuff but a bit of braggadocio tailor-made for this Penn State staff.