Smith ready and loose for task Pompey's support eases transition

November 16, 1993|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,Staff Writer

Paul Smith -- wearing a dark warm-up suit and sneakers -- seemed loose and ready.

An hour away from his first practice as coach of one of the nation's high-profile basketball programs, Smith watched from the rear of a small crowd of students, faculty members and reporters in Dunbar High's gymnasium as two-time All-Metro center Norman Nolan signed a national letter of intent to attend the University of Virginia.

Smith, 52, replaces Pete Pompey, a man who Nolan -- reading from a prepared statement -- wished could "be here to share the biggest decision of my life."

A man who two years ago led the Poets to a 29-0 record and the mythical national title, and who last year led Dunbar to a No. 1 area ranking and the Class 1A state title.

Pompey also is the man who has been on administrative leave with pay since August while the state's attorney's office investigates alleged misuse of athletic funds.

When football coach Stanley Mitchell replaced Pompey, he initially faced community disapproval, and later public disapproval from Pompey. Still, he has led the fifth-ranked Poets (9-2) into this weekend's 2A state semifinals.

Smith and Pompey shouldn't have similar problems. They were teammates at Douglass during the late 1950s. Their past relationship, along with a phone conversation between the two on Sunday, may have softened community concerns.

"Pete and I have talked. And whether I'm here for two months or the entire season, this is his program," said Smith, who was informed of his new position Sunday by principal Charlotte Brown.

"I won't let my ego get in the way -- I'm just here to do the best I can as far as the kids are concerned," said Smith. "But I've known Pete for 35 years, and as a person, I just hope his situation gets straightened out as soon as possible. He's worked hard to establish the credibility that he has."

Reached at his home yesterday Pompey said he was pleased that Smith got the job.

"I've known Paul Smith a long time. Of course, I'm not satisfied with not being coach. But I'm pleased that he was chosen," said Pompey. "I think they got a pretty good coach."

Smith, a 1964 graduate of Virginia Union, has established his own bit of credibility over 18 seasons, compiling a 260-158 record, mostly at McDonogh School in Baltimore County. He takes over a Dunbar program that was ranked No. 8 nationally in Street & Smith's preseason poll.

"He is very good with kids and emphasizes being students first and athletes second," Brown said. "He loves kids and that's one of the most important things. It's all within my vision of education. He won't steer them wrong."

At McDonogh from 1974 to 1990, Smith won six Maryland Scholastic Association B Conference titles, earning The Baltimore Sun's Coach of the Year honors in 1985-86.

"As successful as we were at McDonogh, there's no comparison with Dunbar," said Smith, who coached at Sidwell Friends in Washington from 1990 to 1992.

"With Dunbar, you're talking about a nationally ranked program that has been consistently good for 40 years," Smith said. "They've always been extremely competitive and it's unfair to ask McDonogh's program to be compared in any way, shape or form."

He is ready to focus on his newest task, needing to look no further than Nolan, 6-foot-8, 225 pounds, for an example to teammates.

"There's a kid with more than just athletic ability. There's a good example of a kid whose got his priorities in order and his head on straight," Smith said.

"These kids will have to do their jobs academically between 9 and 3. And if they get their grades, this program should afford them the opportunity to go on to college -- whether or not it's Division I."

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