Washington coach Jimmy Smith ‘always put other people first’

SHARE Washington coach Jimmy Smith ‘always put other people first’

Last week Washington football coach Jimmy Smith was working the phones, calling around to other Public League coaches to determine the best offseason camps for his players.

He was the kind of guy who preferred being outside the spotlight. The 46-year-old South Side native was quiet though resolute in his ambition to elevate the football fortunes of the far Southeast Side that struggled to find its place.

In the four years before Mr. Smith took over the job in 2010, Washington won just six football games. Under Smith, the school was heading in the right direction. By his second year, the Minutemen won seven games in 2011.

Mr. Smith passed away very unexpectedly on Monday at the South Side home he shared with his father, also named Jimmy, and mother, Douretta Smith.

The elder Jimmy Smith is a legendary figure in Public League public address and broadcast circles, known for his trademark line, “In the Gym.” Jimmy Smith Sr. said his son was working on the computer at home Monday evening and began to complain he was having difficulty breathing.

A short time later he collapsed on the floor. His father, a retired 30-year member of the Chicago Fire Department, administered CPR, but the younger Smith never regained consciousness. “He just laid down and kind of went to sleep,” Smith Sr. said.

News of Mr. Smith’s sudden passing had wide reaching repercussions at the high school and the tightly-knit Public League coaching fraternity. Students at Washington quickly conceived, designed and published a mural in his honor at the school.

“It’s a shame we lost a coach like that,” said Hubbard coach Elton Harris, the president of the Public League football coaches’ association.

“He took pride in what he was doing over there. He started putting his kids in football camps, taking part in 7-7 [passing leagues] and just doing a tremendous job.

“We lost a good guy.”

Mr. Smith attended Holy Angels grammar school and played football at Mount Carmel, where he graduated in 1985. He played outside linebacker for coach Frank Lenti. “His most memorable game was probably against Buffalo Grove,” his father recalled. “It was a state playoff game, and he tackled the quarterback in the end zone for a safety.”

Mr. Smith attended but did not graduate from Elmhurst College. After working in the private sector, he became involved in coaching at Washington. He worked at the school in its security department, and he began as an assistant on the previous staff.

Washington posted two winning seasons in Mr. Smith’s head coaching tenure. He went 17-18 in his four years. His final team finished 5-4 in the Windy City division of the Chicago Conference last fall.

Mr. Smith was single. “His life was those kids,” his father said. “He didn’t have time for a girlfriend, or anything like that. “My son always put other people first. He always wanted to help people.”

Washington principal Frank Gallick told Smith some 70 Washington student-athletes earned partial or full college scholarship through his direct involvement. “He’d just pick kids up in his car, and he’d drive them, it didn’t matter where, South Dakota, to Concordia, Elmhurst, Triton.

“It wasn’t just football either, it was also basketball and baseball.”

In addition to his parents, Mr. Smith is survived by his sister, Nichelle. Mr. Smith was cremated in a private service. The family is holding a memorial service on March 29th at the Calahan Funeral Home, 7030 S. Halsted St., at 11 a.m.

“God had a plan for him, and he’s in a better place now,” his father said.

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