In 17 seasons on the Bear bench, Kent Smith has posted 436 wins, compared to just 143 losses, winning better than 75 percent of his games, but this year’s squad will take the hardwood without him.
“I can’t go into this season if I’m not invested 100 percent in it,” the veteran coach stated last week. “I know the timing of this is not good, with practice to begin in two weeks. My recovery from total knee (replacement) surgery has taken longer than I expected, plus I’m facing some major oral surgery, so after much prayer and consultation, I’ve decided it would be best for me to step aside for the upcoming season to give me a chance to deal with these health issues.
“I’ve been very conflicted about this decision. I’ve wrestled with it but after laying on my back after having my knee surgery, I saw my mortality,” coach Smith added. “This has been my identity for 21 years (total coaching time). It is a job with a lot of stress, much of which I have put on myself.”
“My style of coaching is very physically demanding, and I don’t think it would be fair for me to expect the players to give 100 percent, if I can’t,” he stated this morning. Smith contemplated resigning his position altogether, but Bradley Principal Todd Shoemaker and athletic director Turner Jackson advised him to take a leave of absence instead.
“Todd and Turner, along with some others, suggested I take a year off and recover physically, before making a decision on whether or not to resign completely,” coach Smith related.
Longtime assistant coach Chuck Clark will take over the varsity duties, while Patrick Spangler will direct the junior varsity squad. Newcomer Drew German will help coach the freshman team.
“Chuck has been with me for 15-16 years. Patrick played on the 2002 state runner-up team and has been back with us (as a coach) for the last five years, so I feel very confident in them directing the program,” coach Smith declared. “We’ve always worked together as a team and so the transition shouldn’t be difficult for the players to adjust to.
“Chuck played here (in the 1970s) and has been a big part of our success since I took over the program (in 1996), so I know he’ll do a great job,” he assessed. “Patrick brings a fire with him the players respond well to. They had already been taking over some of the duties that I normally would do the last few years, so the program is in good hands.”
Along with the recovery from his knee surgery, which is expected to take as much as “six to eight months or even up to a year” to complete, Smith is facing a series of oral surgeries that he has been delaying due to his coaching responsibilities.
“I went to the oral surgeon last week and we hope to get started with this as soon as possible,” the Bear mentor explained. “I’ve been putting this off for several years because of basketball, but it needs to be done.”
Bradley opens practice on Oct. 28 with the first game to tip off Nov. 12 when Cookeville comes to town for a Hall of Fame game. The Bears have advanced to the TSSAA sectional play the past two seasons.