Item: Various schedule conflicts had limited our interaction with SU’s first year coach to a couple of teleconferences since he came aboard last December, but we finally had an opportunity to have a casual face-to-face chat with the beaming and gregarious Orange boss following the 31-24 win over Connecticut last Saturday at East Hartford, only the 5th road win in the last four seasons in games played away from the Carrier Dome, and it was worth the nearly 10 month wait.
Growing up in the 1960s and 70s in Princeton, N.J., we had the opportunity to watch a lot of college football with the hometown Princeton Tigers playing only two miles away from our house. This was at a time of transition for the Ivy League programs, downgrading from being national powers in the early portion of the 20th century including producing national champions and Heisman Trophy winners (as Princeton’s Dick Kazmaier accomplished in 1951), to settling into a schedule against lower Div. I programs before the 1978 separation into the current FBS and FCS levels of financial commitment and competition.
A one year teammate of Kazmaier’s at Princeton in the ’51 season was a relatively unknown sophomore fullback named Homer Smith, who would go on to an all-conference and all-East career by his senior season. With a Princeton degree in hand, Smith embarked on a whirlwind life of coaching at Army, Davidson and Pacific, gaining fame as UCLA’s offensive guru during three separate tenures and at Alabama, among many different chapters of a 39 year coaching career.
Anyone following the great history of Princeton football, as we did growing up, knew the coaching greatness of Homer Smith.
Oh, and besides a storied life marching up and down the sidelines or barking down play calls from high above, Smith, who died at age 79 in 2011, earned a graduate business degree at Stanford, completed a two year theology program at Harvard, and wrote a host of books and manuals that hundreds of his coaching colleagues continue to pore through right up to today.
With more of an approach as a “Professor of Football,” Smith’s mind dissected the nuances of the 22 players in motion on the field, and he was an early offensive guru from the origins of perfecting running the wishbone, then transitioning to variations of the spread offense with creative formations that got receivers open for completions, all designed to counter defenses that clogged the line of scrimmage.
“Without his influence on me, I probably would not be standing here,” Babers said of Smith’s mentoring of his career back at his Manley Field House introductory press conference on Dec. 7, 2015.
Fast forward to last Saturday in a tunnel outside of the victorious Syracuse locker room following Barbers’ postgame press conference. As we introduced ourselves and provided details to the beaming and gracious coach concerning The Juice website among the pleasantries, with the first utterance of the name “Homer Smith” and the shared Princeton connection, the coach’s eyes lit up and he excitedly proclaimed, “that last drive out there (that culminated in Eric Dungey’s six yard touchdown run to give SU a 31-17 lead), that was all Homer Smith!”
From there, the spontaneous few minutes of conversation went in different directions from hearing his excitement of the challenge of building the program by his own design to compete in the ACC, to our excitement of covering this newest chapter of Orange football and briefly detailing what it was like to cover his six predecessors.
The impressive, easy quick take; Syracuse football is in good hands moving forward.