Ex-Gateway coach Smith mining for talent in Western Pa.
Terry Smith has unfinished business in his backyard.
The wounds resulting from how he left two respected jobs — and his home — still run deep. So he focuses on the exciting potential in his new role as Temple's wide receivers coach.
It's a major leap from his former positions as coach and athletic director at Gateway, which he didn't want to leave until circumstances dictated otherwise.
Smith departed Gateway following last football season when his athletic director position was reduced to half time, his salary was slashed in half and the district instituted a new rule that no administrator can also coach. It forced Smith to choose between being a coach or an administrator, despite his reputation as one of the top coaches in the area. He was given until June to decide, when Temple intervened.
“There were some tough, difficult days,” said Smith, who indicated he's unable to discuss specifics at Gateway after he filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last fall claiming the decision to reduce his position was racially motivated.
“On Friday, on game day, you knew the administration was going to come with something different. It was part of their plan to distract you from succeeding.”
Fortunately for Smith, Temple coach and State College native Matt Rhule was impressed with his 101-30 record at Gateway featuring seven conference titles, four WPIAL finals appearances and 40 Division I recruits.
Rhule, who played linebacker at Penn State, hired Smith in a surprise move immediately following a January recruiting visit for Gateway quarterback Tommy Woodson, now a freshman at Akron.
“Temple was recruiting my quarterback, and coach Rhule came to school for his visit,” Smith said. “It was a really busy day. I had a ton of recruiters in, and coach Rhule was kind of listening to my interaction with some of the other college coaches and then some former players and some of my current players. He asked for a private conversation and one thing led to another. In two days, I was hired.”
The move came so quickly, Smith's wife and 14-year-old daughter didn't follow him to Philadelphia. They will join him after the season.
Despite the change in venue, Smith's future success at Temple remains connected to the area where he grew up. He's added a new title to his resume: recruiter.
“Part of me being hired was the plan to make Temple a household name in Western Pennsylvania,” Smith said. “I recruit all of Western Pennsylvania, from Altoona all the way to the Ohio border, and all the way up to Erie. So far, we're having a greater impact than Temple has ever had in the past. We want to have four to seven kids from Western Pennsylvania every year.”
This year's Temple roster features three freshmen from Western Pennsylvania, including two who played for Smith at Gateway, among a total of four local players.
A native of Aliquippa who starred at Gateway and Penn State, Smith already has received 2014 commitments from two of his former players at Gateway — Delvon Randall and Brenon Thrift. Anthony Davis — a third Gateway player who's regarded as a top 10 recruit in the state — has decommited from Temple. Smith also received a commitment from Indiana's Darrious Carter.
“There's a path that's been set by previous guys at Gateway,” Smith said. “Armstead Williams is a starting linebacker at Purdue. Jaymar Parrish is (playing) at Pitt as a true freshman. Dayonne Nunley is a four-year starter at cornerback at Miami of Ohio who should get drafted to play in the NFL. There's some guys there now that hopefully will follow in their path and have good college careers.”
In a strategic move, Smith widened his recruiting net to make offers to four talented Aliquippa players for 2014 — Dravon Henry, Jaleel Fields, Terry Swanson and Jyier Turner — in an apparent attempt to land Henry, an elite defensive back. To date, none has committed to Temple.
“We've had kids at Temple before,” Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac said. “Some kids fit at Temple, some kids fit at Pitt, some kids fit at city schools, some kids don't. We view them all the same. It's what are you going to do for our kids? Are they going to be able to play? Are you going to help them graduate?”
Smith received support from Gateway players and parents when he was embroiled with the school board to keep his dual job as coach and athletic director. He wants to capitalize on some of that goodwill, and Rhule is placing trust on Smith's reputation in the region.
“Throughout his coaching career, Terry has produced outstanding players,” Rhule said. “His longstanding ties in Western Pennsylvania will greatly benefit us on the recruiting trail.”
“Right now, Temple's not a household name. We're trying to change that attitude,” Smith said. “For me to walk into a family's home, I'm from there. I was born in Aliquippa. I went to high school at Gateway. We (have) two main goals for our kids coming through the program. One, we want them to graduate. Two, we want them to have the opportunity to play pro ball, if that's the opportunity for them. That's my guarantee to any parent from Western Pennsylvania.”
Temple is 0-3 in Smith's first season. The Owls, members of the American Athletic Conference, host No. 7 Louisville on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
“Obviously, we have to win some games to help recruiting,” Smith said. “But in the midst of going 0-3, it helps to show the need of a higher caliber player as well. We are having a greater impact. Come February on signing day, we'll know exactly what that impact is.”