Chuck Smith’s impact extends beyond sidelines

Published 11:15 pm Friday, December 20, 2019

When Chuck Smith announced he was retiring on Tuesday, it sent shockwaves across not only Boyle County but also the state of Kentucky.

As of the end of Thursday’s Boyle County basketball game, Smith is officially retired — as his duties with the school officially came to a close.

As he watched Rebel basketball on Tuesday and Thursday night, Smith looked incredibly at ease and relaxed. Rarely did he not have someone around him, congratulating him on his retirement, or thanking him for the years of success he’d given the school.

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One thing was more apparent than anything — Chuck Smith had an enormous impact on the community and his presence on the sidelines on Friday in the fall will be missed.

“He’s a legend. He built this program from the ground up,” former Rebel, and soon to be Mountaineer Reese Smith said about his coach. “He was here when it was at its worst and when it was at its best. We couldn’t get the job done this year, but he’s for sure the best coach in Kentucky high school football in my opinion.”

The program that coach Smith inherited was a far cry from the power house it’s recognized as statewide today. In three years before hiring Smith, the Rebels won a combined five games. It didn’t take long for the turnaround to start.

“At that time, Boyle was in a funk — is the best way to put it — as far as football goes. When Chuck came in, he breathed new life into the program,” Boyle County announcer Steve Bertram — a legend in his own right — said about coach Smith. “The year that they were unbeaten in the regular season and then lost to Bourbon County in the playoffs. Bourbon was coached by Dudley Hilton and went on to win the state title. We had an idea then that this guy was able to do some things that we hadn’t seen before.”

“He is Boyle County football. He built the culture around here,” Boyle quarterback Reed Lanter said. “He set the standard high for us. He pushed us to work hard and we respected him enough to do what he asked us to do and we ended up being very successful.”

“This program wouldn’t be anything that it is today if it wasn’t for him,” former player Dustin Kelly said. “Starting in 1992 and to have that run to 2004. That foundation he built here is unbelievable.”

“The good thing with all Boyle County athletics in general is that you’ve got different coaches in different pockets get the programs off the ground. Obviously, he was that with football,” Boyle’s athletic director Kyle Wynn said. “I was coaching at Centre College before I came here and that’s when I heard the talk about “Title Town” and all that. I didn’t know much about Danville when I moved here out of college and that’s what you heard of and Chuck Smith’s name is at the forefront in that. 

“To build it from the ground up and then his high school farewell getting to come back — one more tour if you will — and put another stamp on it with another title and runners up this year. I think that was pretty special for the school and community but also for coach Smith.”

Smith’s son — Brandon — said that even at an early age, he knew he was watching something special with his dad as a coach.

“I think I was always mesmerized by the job that him and his staff did even at an early age,” he said. “You didn’t have to be a football genius to figure out that what they were doing was different. They took very average players and ability and got them to play an extraordinary level.”

Everybody knows the success Boyle County enjoyed under coach Smith. You know about the state titles, the undefeated seasons. The sustained excellence. But for the people within the program — the players, coaches — Chuck was more than just a champion on the field.

“Coach Smith during my tenure came back right when I was starting as athletic director. I got to know him as a colleague — he was assistant AD with me — so we worked together quite a bit,” Wynn said. “Just a big asset for our community and our school. On a personal level, I learned a lot from him. He was a great person to work with. Obviously, he gets the accolades for a coach, but he’s just an awesome person as well.”

“The mentor that he is. The amount of kids that he’s reached in his time and has been a mentor to,” former player and current assistant coach Travis Leffew said. “The biggest thing is — being coached by him and coaching with him — is just that “It” factor that he has. His love for the game, passion for the kids — it’s one of the biggest things he brought to this program.”

“ It extends beyond the football field. It gives you that discipline, how to respect your elders and all that,” Boyle senior Alex Patton said. “That’s just a big part of my life and everybody else who’s ever played for him.”

Having my father as coach was one of the better experiences I’ve had in my life,” Brandon Smith said about his father as a coach. “Sometimes you here of those situations and they turn out to be nightmares, but ours was a very positive experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

“I think coach Smith made me into the player I am,” Wilson Kelly — who signed to play at Middle Tennessee State on Wednesday — said. “He pushed me beyond what I thought I could be push. Day in and day out, he’d get after it. There were a lot of days I didn’t want to go in — I’m not going to lie — because I knew it was going to be a long day. But I’m very thankful for that because it’s going to prepare me for college. He’s done a lot for me and this community and the team. He means a lot to me.”

Bertram’s son played for Smith and he recalls a moment from his son’s freshman season when he knew the kinds of men coach Smith built.

“When my youngest son was a freshman, I remember after two or three weeks of him practicing in the summer and getting his taste of what Boyle County football was,” he said. “He came in and said something and I told my wife ‘I don’t know what coach Smith is selling, but Andrew has bought it hook, line and sinker.’”

Coach Smith’s legacy will extend long beyond what he’s accomplished on the football field. It will extend beyond the players he’s sent to the NFL — both from Boyle County and his time as a linebackers coach and recruiter for the University of Kentucky. His legacy will be the community he leaves behind and the sense of family that surrounds the Boyle County program.

Part of that community is showcased by the Thanksgiving practice that he’d hold when the Rebels made it deep enough to play after the holiday. 

All former players are invited to come out to the practice, and a sizable chunk of them do. This year, current Indoor Football League player Jarrod Harrington came back and spoke to the team, and the Boyle County pride still flowed through his veins.

“If you’d ever seen the movie Friday Night Lights, that’s what it’s like here. Everyone’s a family,” he said on Thanksgiving. “No matter how far we wander away from home, when we come back it picks up where it left off at. Friendships last forever. When you come through Boyle County football it’s a brotherhood here.”

Chuck Smith ends his career with six state titles and eight state title appearances. (Photo by Derek Brightwell)

That’s what Chuck Smith built at Boyle County.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that Boyle County will have to move on from coach Smith. After 2004, he took that job at UK. When he came back in 2014, Bertram says, the feeling around the community changed.

“There was a lot of excitement. The ‘magic’ was back,” he said. “The biggest thing, I think, that was the difference was the difference in the kids. When he left, those kids that played for him knew what it took to get to the next level.”

Next year, Boyle will also be without offensive coordinator Chris Pardue — who took over the head coaching job when Smith left the first time. 

“I always thought Chris was an offensive play calling genius,” Bertram said. “They were a great match for each other. One was defense, the other offense. Those were their callings. Pardue could dial up some special stuff on offense and Smith could do some special things on defense. They adjusted — whatever was going on — they adjusted well to what they were facing in a game.”

Brandon Smith has gone on to have a successful career in his own right — winning two state titles at South Warren High School in Bowling Green — and it was his relationship with his father that made him want to step on the sidelines.

“I  wanted to get into coaching because of him, not because of all the success he had, but I saw growing up what kind of impact he made on his players lives,” he said. “As a boy constantly seeing men of different ages coming up to your father and telling him what a difference he made in their lives is pretty powerful. Since getting into coaching myself, our relationship has taken on a different meaning. I ask him for advice pretty consistently on how to handle certain situations. I look to him for motivation and inspiration as well. We really don’t talk a ton of X’s and O’s mostly because he taught me that is not what really matters or makes a difference anyway.”

Now, with Smith retired, the focus is on who will be the next man on the sidelines for the Rebels in 2020. Everyone has theories but the only thing anyone knows for certain is that it’s not going to be an easy shadow to step into.

“It’s an attractive job and it’s a special job,” Wynn said. “We’ll be going to work here immediately to fill those big shoes and keep this program where it’s at — one of the best in the state.”

“You can’t replace him,” Leffew said. “The next coach is just going to have to know the culture of this program. Know what’s built this program — the foundational blocks that he started in 1992 and even started before him with some of the other coaches. Whoever it might be has to understand they have to carry on that tradition.”

“I always look at that this way — Cawood Ledford was one of the best UK play-by-play guys that had ever been. I always said whoever replaced the man who replaced Cawood was going to have a much easier job,” Bertram added.

No matter what happens with Boyle County football next year and in the years to come, Chuck Smith’s impact on the program will always be felt — and by more than just the state title years forever on the wall of Rebel Stadium.

But I’ll let his son sign us off here.

“I think more so than any win or record or championship, the most impressive thing to me is what impact he had on the community. Especially for anyone that can remember what it used to be like before he got there. It definitely isn’t what it is now. What you get in Boyle County is very rare. There are very few places that have a sense of unity around the community of one common theme like exists in Boyle County. 

“I think he has established a sense of pride amongst that community. It doesn’t matter if you have a son involved or know someone in the program or not everybody is proud of that program. That is what Boyle County has, that is what people think of when they think of Boyle County. That is special and that is definitely the most remarkable accomplishment of his career in my opinion.”