Tuesday, November 01, 2005


BELLINGHAM, Wash. --- Rob Smith, the most successful coach in the history of Western Washington University football and the longest-tenured gridiron coach in the northwest, is leaving at the conclusion of the season.

Smith, 48, is in his 17th year as the Vikings' head coach. Entering Saturday's season finale against Western Oregon at Civic Stadium, he has a 109-61-1 record, holding the Western record for victories and winning percentage (.643), and ranks third in victories behind only Frosty Westering and Don James among collegiate coaches in the state of Washington.

Smith informed his assistant coaches of his decision to resign following a 31-28 loss to Central Washington in the Cascade Cup game Saturday, and told the Viking players in a meeting Sunday evening.

"It's something that I've been thinking about for quite some time," said Smith. "I feel like a change is in order both for me and the program. In terms of 'Why now?,' I've asked myself that … I had made my mind up last week as to what my decision would be. I just decided that this would be the time to make the announcement.

"You can't find the adrenalin of game day or the emotions of game day anywhere else. At least, I know that I won't be able to, and I'll miss that. But for whatever reason, I've found myself not enjoying the wins as much as I should, and the losses still hit at the core. That's a signal that tells me it's time."

Smith arrived at Western as an assistant coach in 1987 and immediately helped a program that had suffered through nine consecutive losing seasons post two winning campaigns. He became head coach in 1989, leading the Vikings to a 7-2 record, at the time the best in 38 years.

Over his 17 seasons, Smith earned conference Coach of the Year honors seven times - five in the Columbia Football Association and two in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. He was the American Football Coaches Association College Division Region V Coach of the Year in 1995 and 1996.

"We've been fortunate to have had such an outstanding coach and person as Rob Smith heading our football program for 17 years," said Western director of athletics Lynda Goodrich. "He brought an unprecedented standard of excellence to the program.

"It is really difficult to take a program that is not a winner and transform it into a winner. But he had a vision for what it could be. He should take great pride in the program he developed."

Smith has led Western to five playoff berths, the only ones in school history, and its first playoff victory in 1994. The Vikings reached the NAIA Division II national championship game in 1996, winning a school-record 11 games that year. In 1995, Western was 9-0 in the regular season, its first undefeated regular season since 1938, and was ranked No.1 in the NAIA II National Poll for five weeks, including in the final poll of the season.

In his first 16 seasons, Smith led Western to 12 winning records. For some perspective, prior to his arrival as an assistant, the Vikings had 12 winning seasons in 37 years. Smith directed 12 consecutive non-losing seasons (1991-2002), 10 of them winning campaigns. The previous longest such streak for Western was only seven years, immediately following World War II.

Western won six league titles under Smith, the only seven in nearly 90 years of competition prior to his arrival.

In 2000, Smith was named the co-football Coach of the Century for Western, sharing the honor with NAIA Hall of Famer Charles Lappenbusch, who coached the Vikings for 20 years.

"I'm most proud of the reputation this program now has throughout the Northwest, and to some extent at the national level," Smith said. "It wasn't that way in 1987. But I think I leave the program in very good shape. I think I leave it with a level of respect that I feel good about."

Smith attended Hoquiam High School, where he is a member of the Grizzlies Roll of Honor. He led the state in touchdowns with 20 as a senior, and also had 11 pass interceptions. He was a three-year letter winner at the University of Washington, seeing action in the 1978 Rose Bowl and graduating in 1981. When he became Western's coach in 1989, he was the first Don James-coached Husky to become a collegiate head coach.

"It's been a good ride, it really has," said Smith. "I've enjoyed it. It's been a great thing for not just me, but my family. But as a coach, you tend to spend more time with other people's kids, than you do your own, and I think it's time that I spent more time with mine.

"At this point I don't see myself coaching next year. I'm obviously going to take some time to reflect on what's next. I've talked to some people and have some possibilities, but we'll wait and see."

Goodrich said a search for a new head coach would begin immediately.

Paul Madison
Sports Information Director
Western Washington University
Office - 360-650-3108