Coach Sam Smith —
gone but never forgotten
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints,” Psalm 116:15.

Coach Sam Smith along with Mayor Megan Barry

Coach Sam Smith along with Mayor Megan Barry. (photo by Marcus Jones)

Coach Samuel Roosevelt Smith accomplished a great deal in life on earth for himself and countless others in the 74 years he lived. Born March 3, 1943 and joining God on February 23, 2017, he was a giant of a man in many ways. He is gone from here, but never will be forgotten. His home going services were March 5, in which the life and legacy of Samuel ‘Sam’ R. Smith were celebrated at the Nashville, Tenn. based Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church. Rev. Joseph Tribble officiated at Coach Smith’s home church.

To further honor and recognize him, the week before the Sunday home going included various ceremonies commemorating his rich full life and ongoing contribution to the world, through the sports of football, track and field. These were the two key sports he loved, but we later learned that Coach Smith also played tennis.

Whereas the youth of today have electronic devices to play with and occupy their time, a young Sam Smith took on a paper route as a boy. It was said that he put a great deal into that paper route and additional playtime for him was happily rolling a tire down a dirt road with his childhood friends. He never felt trapped in his life circumstances and strived to make the best of the situation whatever that situation was.

Coach Sam Smith’s final tribute was at Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church. This space was his favorite spot where he sat every Sunday for worship. (photo by Deborah A. Culp)

Coach Sam Smith’s final tribute was at Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church. This space was his favorite spot where he sat every Sunday for worship. (photo by Deborah A. Culp)

The order of service included: the processional; the church choir hymn ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’; and the invocation by Deacon Coatee Moore. Scriptures read from the Old Testament were Psalm 34, with the New Testament being Timothy 4:6-8—delivered by Rev. Jack Wheeler. Then there was another choir selection, ‘For Every Mountain.’ The obituary was silently read by all in attendance, followed by announcements by Dashan Buchannan. A soul stirring solo was sung by one of his young track athletes, Camille Caldwell, followed by words of comfort from both Rev. James Hubbard and Rev. Henry Belin. Conesha Barron sang another moving solo, and Rev. Joseph Tribble presented a moving eulogy. After the services were completed, a benediction was delivered. The recessional dismissed everyone with the timeless selection ‘Let the Church Say Amen.’

Coach Smith was born in Canton, Mississippi to parents Ike and Luvenia Smith on March 3, 1943. He established his faith in Jesus at an early age and attended St. John Missionary Baptist Church pastured by Rev. R.L.T. Smith. After moving to Nashville and becoming an adult, he joined the Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church, which was under the leadership of the late Rev. Dr. Enoch Jones and later the late Rev. Dr. William Buchannan. Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church was the Coach’s church until his final call from God came. He proudly taught rotational Sunday School classes there and “when it was his turn to teach, he got on his phone and called many people to announce it,” said the minister giving his eulogy.

Upon completing Canton, Mississippi public schools and graduating in 1964, Smith was awarded a football scholarship to Tennessee A&I. This was under the leadership of legendary Coach John A. Merritt. He earned a Bachelor of Sciences degree in ‘health, physical education and recreation’ in 1968. Afterwards he received a master’s degree in 1974. In addition, he received a ‘plus 45’ in ‘administration and supervision,’ signaling the basis of what was to come in the years ahead.

The man fondly known to many as ‘Coach Smith’ was a member of many local, state and national organizations. He was a coach and master official with the USA Track and Field (USATF) YMCA (where he could be found most days in Nashville); the Nashville Civilians; former president of the Big Blue Club; the Untouchables; TSU Alumni Association; Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame Committee; and a loyal member of the Phi Sigma Beta fraternity. Coach Smith believed in teamwork, diligently paying his tithes and offerings to his church, necessary funding to keep his children and youth moving forward and his fraternal dues. These were just a few of the qualities this strong man of God possessed and shared with others.

He touched the lives of all who met him, no matter how brief or long the time period. His sense of promptness and commitment to sports and life will never be forgotten. He taught physical education at North High School and White’s Creek Comprehensive High School. He also coached football, baseball and girls track and field—in addition to playing tennis. In 1980, he became the coach and director of the Continental T-Belles Track Club, Inc. After retiring in 2004 he didn’t sit still, but spent endless hours fundraising, traveling, mentoring and developing young runners to be the best athletes possible.

He was well known and highly revered for coaching high school girls through his work with the Continental T-Belles Track Club, spending 36 years coaching and mentoring them without incident or scandal. Coach Smith was instrumental in helping them obtain scholarships and admittance to college via athletic scholarships. In all the years of working with that group Smith stated that he only had one fall prey to teenage pregnancy. His work and tireless efforts reached the Olympic level and proudly sent an athlete to compete in the U.S. Olympics.

As previously mentioned, his prowess was not limited to the track clubs and high schools. He taught at the college and Olympic levels too. In recent years, numerous NFL agents sought him out for his staunch assistance in training their clients by increasing their speed for the NFL (National Football League) try-outs.

During his lifetime Coach Smith received a myriad of special honors and recognition for his hard work with and accomplishments for others. On May 6, 2016, the ultimate honor was bestowed upon Coach Smith when the White’s Creek Comprehensive High School Track was named after him. The facility is now known as the ‘Sam Smith Track’ and will influence the lives of countless others. The turnout for the ‘re-naming ceremony’ was amazing, and the large crowd consisted of dignitaries, including: Nashville Mayor Megan Barry; Councilwoman Brenda Haywood; and a former athlete, Councilwoman Erica Gilmore and many others.

Another special day and cherished honor will be held on April 11 as Coach Smith will be posthumously inducted into the Metro Nashville Sports Hall of Fame, with a few other original athletes. Samuel Roosevelt Smith was preceded in death by the following siblings: Eldridge Phillips, Rosa Lee Tate, Emma McCall, Daisy Henry, Ora Mae Gogins and Adele Mae Bradley.

He is survived by: sisters, Winnie Washington of Jackson, Ms. and Inez D. (Rev. Isaac) Abrams of Compton California; and his long time special companion, Joetter Jenkins, along with her daughter Tiffany Jenkins and granddaughter Brianna, who was adored by Coach Smith; Joy M. Sims, attorney; a host of nieces and nephews; and a bevy of other relatives, friends, students and athletes.
He is indeed a man who made a significant contribution to the world.

Arrangements were handled by the Nashville based Lewis and Wright Funeral Directors. Final internment was at Woodlawn Cemetery also in Nashville, Tenn.