Calhoun has lost an iconic community figure with the passing of former Calhoun High football coach, athletic director and math teacher Jerry Smith, who died at the age of 84 on Tuesday at AdventHealth Gordon.
“Coach Smith was an unbelievable person,” former Calhoun football head coach Hal Lamb said. “He was loyal to the Calhoun Yellow Jackets. He was the Calhoun Yellow Jackets No. 1 fan. It really didn’t matter what sport it was, he loved Calhoun Yellow Jackets.”
Smith was born in downtown Red Bud on Oct. 9, 1934, according to his obituary. After graduating from Calhoun High he went on to Florida Christian College and then to University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, which he graduated from. He taught and coached football at both Red Bud and Calhoun high schools. After two years at Red Bud High, Smith landed at Calhoun, guiding the Yellow Jackets from 1980-1988.
“I’ve heard several people talk about that he was not only a great coach, but he was a great person,” Lamb said. “He cared about Calhoun High School football players up until the day he passed away. He was such a loyal person.”
While at the helm of Calhoun, Smith compiled a 36-44-1 record. His final coaching record was 47-52-1.
After stepping down from coaching, Smith continued to serve as Calhoun High School’s athletic director and instructed mathematics, before retiring in 1994.
Lamb said he remembers Smith’s personality the most.
“He’s such an outgoing person,” Lamb said. “He was very supportive, but overall I’d say he was such a fine person to be around. He enjoyed life.”
Buzzy McMillan, a longtime friend of Smith's and former Calhoun High football coach, said from the time he and Smith met at a state high school football clinic in 1969, they hit it off. Their friendship remained strong throughout Smith's life.
"I thought a lot of Jerry, a student of the game and very loyal to the game," McMillan said. "He was ready to talk football at anytime. He was very (much a) fundamentalist in coaching football. I know that he was a hard working football coach and I don't think he ever looked at a football game he didn't think he could win. He was a very good competitor."
In addition to being able to analyze the on-field skills of his players, McMillan said Smith had a unique ability to identify the personalities of his players.
"He thought of his players not as just football players but as individuals, as humans, his heart was out for them and he cared for them," he said. "He had a great relationship with his players."
Even after McMillan got out of coaching high school football and ventured into the business world, the two remained in touch, with football remaining a topic at the forefront of their conversations.
"I can't say how many times we touched base with each other," he said. "I lost a great friend."
But beyond the game, the love Smith had for his home, for Calhoun and Gordon County, and all who lived here was ever-present, McMillan said. Smith kept up with the lives of his former players, but McMillan said he also cared to hear about how the cheerleaders, band members and other students were doing.
"He probably touched more young people than most coaches do in their careers," he said.
Larry House said his friend would stop by his business - House Office Products - every day to talk, mainly about football.
"He came by and chitchatted everyday. He was just a fine man," he said. "He never had a bad word to say about anyone to me. I never heard him say one ugly word in my life, and you know that's hard to do."
Smith was also a longtime columnist for the Calhoun Times, writing about community issues, personal memories and local sports for almost five decades. He had to stop writing his column last fall due to a decline in his health.
"When I became general manager of the Calhoun Times in 2009, one of the first people I met was Coach Jerry Smith," said Liz Crumbly, a former editor at the paper. "He made regular visits to the paper, and I quickly began calling him 'Coach' just like everyone else."
Crumbly recalled Smith as always having something positive to say in her interactions with him, and being supportive of her as she began her career in a new community.
"Newspaper editors take a lot of criticism. Our jobs are on display for the entire community to critique at least once a week in print. I was used to fielding negative feedback. But Coach Smith didn’t criticize; he just praised," she said. "Every time he saw me, he’d tell me what a great job I was doing. His welcoming attitude came to be even more valuable to me than his praise, though. I love Calhoun, but I wasn’t born here, so when I came to the Times, there was a bit of a learning curve in terms of understanding community history and dynamics. Coach Smith gave me the benefit of the doubt and his unwavering support anytime I needed it. He will be missed by so many."
On Friday, friends of the family are invited to Calhoun Church of Christ, from 4-8 p.m. A funeral for Smith will be held on Saturday at the church at 1301 Dews Pond Road, starting at 3 p.m.
Online condolences can be shared with the family at thomasfuneralhomecalhoun.com.