Last updated: August 25. 2013 8:44AM - 108 Views

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Ron Bagley remembers Larry Smith as a straight-forward, honest, high-character person.Bagley was a high school teammate of Smith’s in three different sports at Van Wert High School.“If he told you something, that’s the way it was,” Bagley said.Smith, the emotional coach who led Southern California to the Rose Bowl three times and won 143 games with Tulane, Arizona, USC and Missouri, died Monday with chronic lymphatic leukemia. He was 68.Smith died in a Tucson hospital, the University of Arizona confirmed.His 24-year head coaching college career began at Tulane, included seven years at Arizona and ended in 2000 at Missouri. Smith was 143-126-7 and his teams were 3-6-1 in bowl games.Smith grew up in Van Wert and was a 1957 Van Wert grad. He played for coach Gil Smith, who won 11 Western Buckeye League titles in 19 years and went 46-0-2 during a streak that took in most of Larry Smith’s career.Bagley played offensive end for the Cougars, while Smith was a defensive end. The two also played on the same baseball and basketball teams. Smith played first base in baseball and center in basketball.“He was a great fellow and a great person,” Bagley said. “He and Jim Young (Van Wert grad who coached at Arizona, Purdue and West Point) were both blue-collar workers, who never forgot their friends.“I remember he was very athletic and a very hard worker. He lettered in football as a freshman and he earned 10 varsity letters. He was very sociable and had a lot of friends.”Smith went on to play end at Bowling Green State. That’s when he had a few battles with longtime Elida football coach Jim Dally.“We played against one another in college,” Dally said. “I was at Toledo as a halfback and he was at end at Bowling Green. We played both ways back then.“He came to Shawnee (as a coach) and that’s when I met him and we had a lot of fun together. We stayed in touch. When I was at Elida, I went out to Arizona and took in a few of his practices. He was a lot of fun and had a great personality and a winning smile.”Smith’s first days in coaching were at Shawnee High School when he was head coach from 1964 to 1966. His 1966 Shawnee team went 10-0 and gave up only six points (to Defiance) all season. His overall coaching record at Shawnee 21-8-1.Dave Owen knew Smith well from his years as Shawnee’s trainer from 1965 to 1999.“He was the head coach when I came here in ’65,” Owen said. “He was a very good coach. He knew the game inside and out. When he took on a coach, the coaches went to class with him until they understood what he wanted. They did it his way. He was very competitive.“He was very easy to work with. I didn’t try to do his coaching and he didn’t try to do my training. We got a long very with and I liked him a lot. He was a great guy to work with and a great football person.”Smith also met his wife, Cheryl (Neuenschwander) while he was at Shawnee. He met her while she was working at an Ohio State football clinic.After the 10-0 season at Shawnee, Smith was hired by Bo Schembechler to be Miami University’s linebacker coach.He moved to Michigan when Schembechler became the Wolverines’ head coach in 1969. He was at Michigan until 1973 when he became Young’s defensive coordinator at the University of Arizona in 1973.His first head coaching job came in 1976 at Tulane. Smith went 9-3 at Tulane in his fourth season and left for Arizona in 1980. Smith righted the program during his seven years in Tucson, ending the 1986 season with a 9-3 record and his fifth straight win over rival Arizona State, before leaving suddenly to take over at USC.Smith finished 48-28-3 at Arizona.“He was definitely a gentleman,” longtime Van Wert resident and former teammate of Smith’s Larry Bowersock said. “He was always an influence on the younger players. If they did something wrong, he would always tell them that it was OK. If they did something good, he would always give them a pat on the back.”Smith started his tenure at USC in 1987 and took the Trojans the Rose Bowl in each of his first three seasons. He coached USC for six years, finishing 44-25-3, before he was fired on New Year’s Day of 1993, his departure hastened by a 24-7 loss in the Freedom Bowl to unranked Fresno State. Smith and his wife, Cheryl, kept their home in Tucson, where they spent their offseasons, then moved back full-time when he retired after being fired at Missouri.Smith remained active in recent years, including working with the College Football Hall of Fame and spearheading efforts to change coaching at the Pop Warner level to make sure youngsters get the proper football fundamentals.“He always kept track of the guys that he played with,” Bowersock said. “When he was at USC, he would get us tickets to go out there. He was quite a gentleman.”The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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