George Smith didn’t say much to the public in his 28 years as McKeesport’s football coach, and now we know why:
He saved his most important remarks for the end of his career.
Frustrated and disappointed by the McKeesport School District’s reluctance to address specific issues within the football program, Smith told administrators Jan. 25 that he did not plan to return for the 2010 season. Smith, who was replaced by former Yough coach Jim Ward at Wednesday night’s school board meeting, never explained to the media why he chose to voluntarily end one of the most successful football coaching careers in WPIAL history — until he spoke with Mark Kaboly of the McKeesport Daily News shortly after deciding he was finished.
“You beat your head against the wall with them,” Smith said of school district administrators. ”This is just like the ‘Forrest Gump’ story when he was running and running and running and running and finally he quit running and then everybody said, `What’s wrong, Forrest?’ and he said, ‘I’m tired and I’m going home.’”
Smith told Kaboly that the issues include salary for himself and his staff, improvements to the athletic facilities at the school and money for a weight room supervisor and offseason program.
“I have always been battling uphill with this thing,” Smith said. “It is sort of a relief right now. It is a relief that I don’t have to go and raise all this money for this program. I can go about my life now. It took everything out of me. All they do around here is give you lip service.”
A 2008 Tribune-Review survey revealed that Smith, 60, was the lowest-paid coach in WPIAL Class AAAA at $6,694 per year, less than at some Class A schools. Plus, McKeesport’s football coaches don’t get compensated for offseason programs or postseason games. Boosters are asked to supply medical necessities such as wraps and braces.
When McKeesport won the state title in 2005, the Tigers played 16 games, but assistants were not paid for seven. Assistants’ pay averages $1,000 per coach per season. The Daily News reported that assistants at Class A Serra Catholic, a neighbor to McKeesport, get $2,400.
For its money, McKeesport got one of the most successful and expertly run football programs in the WPIAL. Smith, a member of the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame, won two PIAA and WPIAL championships among his 197 victories. He led the team to 12 consecutive playoffs and 14 since 1993. In the past six seasons, McKeesport is 56-16. Equally important: Smith sent 69 players to Division I universities.
Before he decided not to return, Smith submitted a detailed, nine-page report, emphasizing what the McKeesport football program needed to improve.
“I said, ‘Here is what it is going to take,’ ” he told the Daily News. “I told them I am not going to ask for the most. I want to level out the competition
here. The only thing (superintendent Michael Brinkos) wanted to talk about was giving me more money because they would take the coach’s salary out of the union because I am not a teacher anymore. He didn’t get the entire picture. It is my assistants. You have to give them a little more.”
The day Smith ended his career, he met with Brinkos, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Timothy Gabauer, athletic director Charley Kiss and business manager/board secretary David Seropian. Smith was told that the board could not address most of his concerns until 2011, at the earliest.
“I told (Brinkos) to convince me to stay,” Smith said. “His answer was, ‘are you going to be our head coach or not?’ You know what I said? I said no and handed him a letter.”
And so ended the career of one of the great football coaches in WPIAL history.
A shame? You bet.
You would think smart guys such as Smith, Brinkos, Kiss and other school officials would have found some common ground in this situation, but economic issues — as they usually do — overwhelmed those of football, emotion and fair play.
A shame? You bet.