Long-time Bradley Central boys basketball coach Kent Smith, who took a leave of absence after the 2012-13 season, has decided to officially resign his position and remain at the school as a teacher.
Smith, 52, Bradley’s all-time winningest boys coach with 400-plus victories, stepped away from the job he held for 17 seasons to complete rehabilitation of right knee replacement surgery on July 30, 2013.
“Yeah, I’m getting out,” Smith said, confirming his resignation in a telephone interview with Chattanoogan.com. “My dad (Gary Smith) always told me to get out when you feel good about what you’ve accomplished. In my last year we won district and regional championships and reached the Sectionals.
“I’ve seen coaches stay in it too long. I realize that Chuck (Clark) and (assistant) Patrick Spangler have the enthusiasm that I no longer have and I didn’t want to stay around too long. I think my coaching style just wore me out.”
Smith was a firebrand on the sidelines – emotionally charged in what he was doing and more than a few times slamming an empty chair cushion to get the attention of his players – throughout his career and expressed at the time he took a leave of absence that the decision was “probably more about the mental aspect of coaching” than the status of his physical condition.
Smith met with Bradley Central principal Todd Shoemaker on Monday morning to inform him of his decision not to come back for the 2014-15 season.
It was Shoemaker and athletic director Turner Jackson that persuaded Smith to take a leave of absence rather than resign in October 2013.
When announcing his coaching hiatus, Smith said, “I had total replacement of my right knee on July 30. At the time I planned to rehab and be back ready to go for the upcoming basketball season. I underestimated the recovery in the sense that I’m pretty pleased with the physical aspect of it, but mentally I’m not 100 percent ready with practice starting up pretty soon.
“My principal, who has always supported me, encouraged me to take a leave of absence. I was miserable and couldn’t ask my players to invest 100 percent in our program if I couldn’t do that. I’m just not there yet.
“I busted my rear end, but I’m just not ready to coach and it’s more mental than physical.”
So Smith stepped away and gave himself plenty of time to mull what would get him back on the sideline and what would lead him to resign.
Clark, Smith’s long-time assistant, moved into the head coaching chair for the 2013-14 season and Spangler became Clark’s top assistant. They have worked well together and will carry on with permanent coaching titles while leading the Bears’ basketball program.
“I pretty much made my decision this past weekend,” Smith said. “I wanted to go to the state tournament with Chuck and Patrick and we did that. I talked at length with them and talked to other coaches as well. After that, my mind was made up.
“Every successful coach needs a competitive edge and needs a great deal enthusiasm to coach. Over the last three or four years I took time after each season to evaluate how I felt about coaching. With the offseason surgery, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. As this past season played out, I realized the program was in good hands with Chuck and Patrick.”
Under Clark, Bradley Central went 16-12 this season and the Bears won the District 5-AAA regular-season title and went into the postseason tournament as the No. 1 seed. The Bears lost to Walker Valley in the semifinals, defeated Ooltewah for third place and were eliminated from the postseason by Walker Valley in the Region 3-AAA semifinals.
Smith saw only a handful of games all season, including portions of the district and region tournaments.
“I’ve gone back and forth about this,” Smith said, “but I really feel at peace. I’ve got a ton of investment in this program, going back to the time that my grandfather (Tip Smith) coached here. I have a huge attachment to the program. I’m proud of the job Chuck did this year.”
Smith, who spent a total of 23 years coaching basketball, will remain on the faculty at Bradley Central, teaching wellness and working with special needs students, something he’s done since 1992.
He also said he will work with the boys’ team as a volunteer coach at various times and at Clark’s request. He plans to stay heavily involved with team fundraising projects, especially the summertime golf tournament.
In what turned out to be his final season as head coach, Smith directed the Bears to a 19-13 record in 2012-13. Bradley Central won district and region titles, but lost to Siegel in the Class AAA Sectional and missed out on reaching the state tournament in Murfreesboro for the sixth time under Smith.
The Bears finished runner-up at state in 2000 and 2003.
Smith produced one Mr. Basketball – Josh Hare – in 2000 and had two other Mr. Basketball finalists – Justin Hare in 2003 and Terrence Oglesby in 2005.
Smith has a 436-145 overall record, a .750 winning percentage. His best single-season record was 37-2 in 1998-99. He also had five other 30-win seasons, including a 36-3 mark in 2002-03.
Tip Smith went 325-58 over 10 seasons and won state titles in 1940 and 1942 while coaching the Bears and was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 1975. Kent Smith became the Bears’ all-time winningest coach by surpassing his grandfather’s record.
Smith had back-to-back losing seasons in 2007-08 (15-16) and 2008-09 (14-16), but posted winning records in each of his last four seasons. The best won-loss mark in that stretch was a 27-7 in 2011-12.
The veteran coach is 353-119 in regular season play and 73-30 in the postseason. He won 82.2 percent of his home games (168-39), was 257-107 on the road and notched a 119-33 district record.
Smith won nine district tournament titles, including six in a row, and finished runner-up four times. In his trophy case are eight region championships – he won five straight during one stretch – and five Sectional titles.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)