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University of Missouri

The Thinking Man’s Lineman

Beloved MU football assistant Coach Harry Smith dies.

Harry Smith

Harry Smith, center, was a two-time All-American lineman at the University of Southern California and a confidant of Missouri head Coach Don Faurot. Photo from the 1972 Savitar.

Harry Smith, M Ed ’69, was one of the most powerful linemen of football’s first century. He earned All-American honors twice at the University of Southern California before the NFL’s Detroit Lions drafted him in 1940. “Blackjack” Smith coached the Saskatchewan Roughriders to the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup (the CFL’s Super Bowl) and ultimately joined Don Faurot’s coaching staff at Mizzou where he also taught physical education. He was an expert on brawn.

But Smith, who died July 30, 2013, at 94, also appreciated brains. He once wrote a letter to pupil Dave Holsinger, BS Ed ’65, M Ed ’68, of Centralia, Mo., after the football player had elevated his grades.

“This proves one of our great points in teaching and coaching — that those who want to and those who will take the time to accomplish the task will get the job done,” wrote Smith in 1963. “You are performing up to your ability, and you are doing so much better than several people who have high ability but are too lazy.”

Born in 1918 in Russellville, Mo., Smith’s professional career bounced him around North America. But when he met Mabel Geoghegan near MU’s Rothwell Gymnasium in 1941, he fell for his future wife and never looked back. The Smiths married at Faurot’s home Feb. 27, 1942, and celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary in 2013.

“I met Don Faurot at the college all-star game in 1940, and we got along pretty well,” Smith told MIZZOU magazine in 2012. “He said, ‘When you get through, why don’t you come by.’ So I played one year in Detroit — on the same team as [future] U.S. Supreme Court Justice [Byron] ‘Whizzer’ White — made $195 a game and bought a new Chevrolet for $845.”

Smith was known for demonstrating blocking techniques — without pads — against his suited-up players.

“There was no one on the team, including the strongest lineman, who would want to go up against Coach Smith one-on-one,” says Skip Grossnickle, BS Ed ’71, of Columbia. “But he had another side beyond that regimented toughness. He was compassionate, and his caring came through.”

1947 Mizzou Football coaches

Missouri football’s 1946 coaching staff included multiple Mizzou legends. From left are Huston Beatty, Harry Smith, Don Faurot, Chauncy Simpson and John “Hi” Simmons. Photo from the 1947 Savitar.

Smith was an assistant under head coaches Faurot, Frank Broyles and Dan Devine, helping guide the Tigers to multiple bowl games. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1955, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 1974, the USC Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999 and the University of Missouri Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame in 2002. He is survived by Mabel and his two children, Huff and Harry Smith Jr.

Although Smith will be remembered as one of the greatest athletes and coaches ever associated with Mizzou sports, he took pride in his role as an educator.

“I will never forget the first team meeting where he made it very clear ‘There [was] no room for lethargic or phlegmatic players,’ ” recalls former tight end Jim Waller, BS ME ’66. “As soon as I returned to my room I got out the dictionary. I did not want to take any chances of disappointing him.”