He looks relaxed. That engaging smile, still intact.
His enthusiasm for the game of football hasn’t diminished and Steve Smyte still bleeds Blue and White for the Davis High players he was so invested in during these past 3 1/2 years.
But for only the third season since his high school days, the former UC Davis, Boise State and DHS coach will not be involved as a player or mentor.
Smyte took some time out of his no-longer-breakneck schedule to talk about his life without football. He pointed to the strides his Devils made, thanking the people who helped create a “cradle-to-grave” gridiron environment.
Smyte gave his thoughts on the Davis program’s future and chatted about what his summer of leisure included.
One ground rule: The 53-year-old special-education instructor would not discuss the late-June meeting with district and school officials in which Smyte either “stepped down” or was asked to move on as DHS head coach.
“I want this all positive,” the ol’ coach told me.
Decked out in a Hawaiian-print shirt, no appreciable decline in his tan, Smyte leaned in to talk …
“I’m proud of what I accomplished in those three years. I appreciate everything that so many people did to help the program (excel). Do I miss it? Yes.
“But since June, I’ve gotten to spend time with my family, something I hadn’t done for more than three years. This summer was fun.”
Smyte and his daughters Alexondra and Juliana went on long-overdue hiking trips, he’s reintroduced himself to his incredibly patient wife Rose and recently the whole clan attended Smyte’s grandmother’s 100th birthday party in Canada.
“To tell you the truth, it’s been a lot of fun,” Smyte says.
Smyte, along with longtime friend and former Aggie coach Jim Sochor, attended last week’s Blue Devil opener at Yuba City.
The 40-0 setback hurt. But Smyte knows his former students will rally. He has great confidence in interim coach Marc Hicks and believes Davis’ best football days lie ahead.
“You should see the members of the freshman class and that JV team,” Smyte told me. “At Sierra camp (in June), our JV team was the top school there. They even got the best of Del Oro. And that’s a credit to the program being consistent from the little guys up.”
Smyte says what the kids are learning in Davis Junior Blue Devils translates to success on the field in high school.
Taking a sip of his coffee, Smyte leaned back and began a long list of thank yous — love he gave in an eight-page letter he wrote to his team and backers after leaving the program.
“We were able to go from 60 to almost 180 Junior Blue Devils … through great outreach work by Al Inouye, Marty Morse and John Griffiths. We found great teachers and caring coaches like Adam Perez, Morse, Inouye, Mike Goodison and Griffiths.”
He spotlighted the contribution of his staff members over the years. Guys like Yijie Ye, Ty Brown, Lou Bronzan, Joe Carnazzo, Hicks, Josh Reese, Scott Malinoff, Stephen Hoffart, Tom Watts, Frankie Woods, A.J. Bernhardt, Rob Oldham, Charles Johnson, Mike Satre, Logan Kittle, Ian Morrow, Dave Dickerson, Chuck Temple, Morse, Chris Lundin, Louie Leyva, Perez, Arn Williams, Scott Stevenson, Rick Yaver, Dane Denkers, Derek Brothers and Ramon Cusi received Smyte’s thanks.
“You get them all in there,” implored Smyte, pointing at this reporter’s notebook. “They deserve credit.”
The list didn’t stop there. Blue Devil Football Backers and Rich Jenness and Rich Riffle, former DHS coaches Dan Gazzaniga and Dave Whitmire and ex-Aggie mentors Bob Biggs and Sochor were part of Smyte’s heartfelt attention in that letter — as were all Devil players’ parents (Inouye, Riffle and Gary Nunes specifically mentioned).
In that tome, Smyte made it clear that he and his Devils had achieved their three goals: 1) be competitive (5-5 in 2012); 2) ensure good citizenship (no Davis varsity player suffered discipline at the administrative level, plus the Blue Devils were involved in a myriad community events); and 3) be good students (the collective GPA went from the 2.3 to 3.3, including 70 percent of the program attaining better than 3.0).
And while Smyte this week wouldn’t talk about what transpired in that June meeting with Athletic Director Dennis Foster and district personnel chief Matt Best, the letter to Devil Nation explained that practice time and involvement in the Sierra Football Camp were bones of contention.
In short, in the eyes of the administrators, too much time was being spent on football.
Smyte didn’t see it that way. With attention to academics, occasionally study hall would mean his team got on the field late, according to the coach. With thin numbers, many players went two ways and needed extra instruction. Plus, from personal observation, confirmed by Smyte, physical contact in practice was limited and was far less than seen in other programs.
Why? Thin numbers, especially in 2010, meant laying the wood was saved for the games.
One story says Smyte was asked to leave at least a year earlier than he planned.
Another side — in a short news release from Foster on June 25 — says Smyte “stepped down.”
“I came into that meeting with the expectation that (2013) would be my last year,” Smyte’s letter noted. “I would finish … with our seniors because I did not want to leave them at this time — or have them feel that I quit on them.”
Anyone who knows Steve Smyte knows he still has Devil Nation in his heart. And his short stay as coach should live on as the foundation for the rebirth of Davis High football.
It’s pretty sure that Smyte won’t be able to stay away from football, but was it tongue in cheek when he told me he might re-apply for his old position when it’s posted after season’s end?
“Or I might go over to UCD and see if (new head coach) Ron Gould needs any help.”
For now, get some more rest, coach. It looks like it agrees with you.
— Bruce Gallaudet is a staff writer for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8047.