Sweet 17 came first Tubby Smith: Being one of 17 children helped Georgia's coach, leading the Bulldogs to the Sweet 16 in his first year, learn hard work and values.

March 21, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

The way Ramona Smith remembers it, her big brother Tubby was coaching long before he became a coach. It was back when they were growing up on a farm in Scotland, Md.

There was a dirt basketball court behind the modest, five-bedroom house their father had built after the next-to-last of the family's 17 children was born. The hoop was a bushel basket attached to the corn shed.

"We had our own team," said Ramona Smith, who was six years and five siblings behind Tubby. "Tubby taught a lot of us how to play sports. He was always doing the right thing as far as our parents were concerned."

It's an amazing story. Not just the success of Orlando "Tubby" Smith, the 44-year-old coach who, in his first season at the University of Georgia, has led the Bulldogs to their first appearance in the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 in 13 years.

Georgia (21-9) will play Syracuse (26-8) tomorrow night at McNichols Arena in Denver in a West Regional semifinal.

The Smith family legacy is quite remarkable in its own right: Guffrie Sr., who won a Purple Heart after being wounded as a machine gunner in World War II and drove school buses in St. Mary's County for nearly 50 years; Parthenia, who stayed home to raise the kids and run the annually expanding household; the children, who now range in age from Cindy, 30, to Guffrie Jr., 54.

Every child graduated from high school, a dozen went to college.

"And nobody ever had to face a judge," said Guffrie Smith, 74, who was forced to retire after quintuple-bypass surgery last fall. "Never had any real confrontations."

There are nurses and teachers, military officers and secretaries. And a basketball coach who supposedly took his nickname because he refused to come out of the bath. Or, as was the case, his grandmother's wash basin. Until Guffrie Sr. built the house in 1963, the Smiths had no indoor plumbing.

"I was told that I was very tubby when I was young, and I had a fondness for the bathtub," Tubby Smith said earlier this week. "But my mother doesn't have any pictures of me being tubby. I tried to get rid of it in high school, but I could never shake it. Or shed it."

Tubby Smith was the sixth-oldest child, the second boy in a family where the males were outnumbered by more than two to one (12 girls, five boys). There wasn't much room in the small farmhouse the family shared with Parthenia's mother.

The lack of space and running water were among the reasons Guffrie Smith decided to build the house on Fresh Pond Neck Road. The abundance of mouths to feed at one point there were 12 kids in the house high school age or younger was why he eventually worked three jobs, including being the local barber.

"Everybody's talking about Ripken, but my father didn't take off a day of work in 49 years," said O'Dell Smith, an insurance agent in Northern Virginia and a major in the field artillery division of the Virginia National Guard. "Now, that's something."

Said Ramona, a college and career counselor at Great Mills High School, "I didn't see my father much. He was always working."

O'Dell Smith said that much of his brother's coaching personality comes from their mother, and off the court he is more like their father. Guffrie Sr. is fairly quiet, but was still a commanding presence in the home. Parthenia was more excitable. "After the 10th kid, I guess her nerves got a little frayed," joked O'Dell.

Early lessons

Tubby Smith said he learned about patience and persistence from his father and from growing up on a farm where he drove a tractor by the time he was 7 and had to get up at 5 every morning to help with the chores. Along the way, Tubby learned something else that became a part of the way he conducted his life.

"He told us that it doesn't cost anything to treat people right," Tubby said. "He taught us it is more important to share and care. He did everything in moderation, otherwise he would not have survived. He was the most patient man I've ever met."

Guffrie Smith still plays a major role in his son's life. He was the voice of reason when Tubby nearly abandoned his dream of becoming a Division I head coach. He was the inner conscience who made Tubby turn down a more lucrative offer from the University of Oklahoma after only three years as head coach at Tulsa, mainly because of the proximity of the schools.

And Tubby's father was the realist who asked him one question last spring, when he was first contacted about the Georgia job. "He asked me, 'How much more money are you going to make?' " recalled Tubby.

Record of success

The success Tubby Smith has had as a head coach, first at Tulsa and now at Georgia, isn't a surprise given his track record. The resume includes being the all-time leading scorer at Great Mills, a good enough player at High Point College to get drafted by the Bullets, a successful high school coach back at his alma mater and an upwardly mobile assistant for 12 years at Virginia Commonwealth, South Carolina and Kentucky, where Rick Pitino named him associate head coach in 1990.

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