Randy Smith, a longtime college and high school football coach who guided the 1977 Robinson Knights to the Class 4A state semifinals, died this week at his Tampa home. He was 63.
Smith, also a quarterback and Guy Toph Award winner for Robinson, was a key figure in one of the most memorable athletic events ever held in Tampa. In 1963, Robinson lost to Coral Gables, 16-14, on a last-second field goal at the old Phillips Field in Florida's first state championship game, ushering in the football playoff era.
Smith served on the football staffs at Jesuit High, the University of Tampa, Vanderbilt and North Carolina State (under Lou Holtz), but he was best known for his work with the Knights, particularly the 11-2 team of 1977.
"He was one of the brightest coaching stars to ever come out of Tampa," said Smith's longtime friend, Jimmy Reader. "We all thought he was destined to become a college head coach or an NFL head coach. He was that good, that far ahead of his time."
After a second stint at Robinson (1981-83), Smith served as Roland Acosta's offensive coordinator at rival Plant. Smith left coaching and retired from the Hillsborough County School District in 2002. For years, he presided over a weekly gathering of friends - sometimes a Who's Who of local coaches - to share lunch and debate sports topics.
Smith often talked about his fond memories of being an athlete in the 1960s.
"That was when high school football was at its zenith in Tampa," Smith said. "We were like celebrities in town. There were no big-time professional sports here. I feel like we came along in the best era of all."
"Randy Smith should definitely be remembered as one of the greatest athletes and coaches ever to come from this area," said his former Robinson teammate, Jimmy Smith (no relation). "He was also a sports encyclopedia and maybe the most entertaining guy you'd ever meet. If you were having a bad day, you'd call him and he'd instantly have you laughing."
Smith, who is survived by his sister, Judy Hicks, will be cremated with no funeral service planned. His wishes were for his friends to gather informally over food and drinks, and to swap sports stories, almost as if he were still there.