Bradley Central High School, East Tennessee and the entire state of Tennessee has been blessed with tremendous coaches over the years, but could any combo match the standards set by Tip Smith and his grandson Kent Smith? They combined for 724 high school wins over their coaching careers.
Combined Tip and Kent had a record of 724-198 (78.5 %). In post season they had 16 district tournament championships, 16 regional championships and made 13 trips to the state tournament with two state titles, two second-place finishes, one third and one fifth place finish.
After leaving Charleston, Tip began his coaching career at Bradley Central with a bang going 30-4 during the 1938-39 season. He would go on to coach two state championship teams. His 1939-40 club had a record of 35-6 and won the state championship, beating Nashville Ryan, 25-22 in the championship game. Dee Gibson was the tournament MVP.
The Bears won a second state crown (1941-42) whipping Milan for the title. The club had only one blemish on the 35-1 record, losing to Knoxville High. During the 1952-53 season, C.A. Kyle Jr. set the Bradley’s single-season scoring record with 46 points against Charleston. The Bears would go over the century mark twice (first-times during those days).
Tip would leave Bradley Central with a coaching record of 288-53 (84.5 %), two state titles and a third- and fifth-place finish in state tournaments. He had nine players named All-State and three different players named MVP of the state tournament. He was the first person from Bradley County to be inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame (1975). He stepped away from Bradley after the 1942 season to serve on the staff of the Military Physical Training Program at UT-Knoxville, during World War II. He returned to coaching in 1946 at TMI but went back to Bradley in 1949. He accepted a position at Tennessee Wesleyan in 1955 as coach and athletic director until 1973.
“I started spending every Friday night with Daddy Tip at age five and we would go to Couch's BBQ and then take in a high school football or basketball game,” said Kent. “We would go to his house on the farm where he lived for over 40 years. He passed away in 1985 and a month later I graduated from Middle Tennessee State University and moved to the farm where I lived for nearly three years. He was the main reason I pursued a teaching and coaching career. It was never a goal of mine to win more games than he, because I honestly did not know how many games he had won. I never had the chance to see him coach because he retired before I was old enough to watch,” Smith remembered.
“My relationship with my grandfather was very special to me. Everywhere he went, people knew him. As a young child, he was bigger than life as a person, in my mind. I can remember when he was inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame he said his relationships with his players were the biggest factor of his coaching career. I valued that in my coaching career as well. Spending as much time as I did with him at the farm was very special to me while I was growing up,” Kent proudly proclaimed.
Kent graduated from Cleveland High School in 1979, and received his bachelor’s degree from MTSU and teaching certification from Tennessee Wesleyan College.
“It was always my goal to coach at Bradley Central because of my grandfather and my great aunt Inez Clemmer, who was a teacher and administrator for 31 years,” he pointed out.
His first teaching position was at Black Fox Elementary. Kent moved up from Trewhitt Junior High’s ninth grade team coaching position in 1996-97 and directed the Bears for 17 seasons. He stepped away with a 436-145 record (75%). His 436 wins are the most victories of any Bear head coach.
He led Bradley to eight district tournament championships, eight region titles, five sub-states and earned five trips to the state tournament where they finished runner-up twice. Kent picked up his 350th win over Ooltewah (2009-10). His clubs had great battles with powers like Cleveland, Oak Ridge, Oakland, Blackmon, Riverdale and Memphis White Station, a team that defeated the Bears twice in the state championship games.
Kent’s teams posted a 50-game home-court winning streak that covered four seasons and part of the fifth. He had the distinct pleasure of coaching a Mr. Basketball recipient (Josh Hare in 2000) an award that represented the best player in the state that season. He also had two other Bears (Justin Hare in 2003 and Terrence Oglesby in 2007) nominated for that award. Oglesby set the all-time Bear single-game scoring record with 57 points against Red Bank in 2007, a mark that had stood for 45 years.
Kent walked away from Bradley coaching after the 2012-13 season and recently retired from the Bradley County School System after 33 years of teaching and coaching.
“The game changes depending on the talent the team has. The game definitely has sped up since my grandfather coached. In his day, many of the games were low scoring affairs. The athletes today are bigger, faster and stronger, so the game is played a lot faster and more physical. The ultimate goal is still to put the ball in the hole. The great man, Coach Robert Maupin, told me at my first game that I coached at Bradley, to score more points than the other team. That is still true today,” Kent explained.
“I’ve always said, good players make good coaches and that was true at BCHS. I do believe the system we developed helped us to be successful. Weight room and conditioning were a huge focus during the off season. Participation was not voluntary but mandatory. We would practice or workout four days a week in the summer and I tried to schedule games with the toughest competition. I felt every year the expectation should be to make it to the state tournament. The players bought into that expectation and really worked hard for us as coaches.
“Our system was really solid because I had great assistant coaches over the 17 years that I was head coach. Bob Williams, Patrick Spangler, Jason Reuter and current head coach Chuck Clark made our program consistent in what we were trying to accomplish. There were too many players to mention without leaving someone out. We did retire both Josh and Justin Hare's jerseys along with Terrence Oglesby's but there were so many great players and I would not want to leave anyone out,” he noted.
Defeats in tournament play are likely still troubling Kent today.
“Any loss in the state finals was a disappointment but probably the one that hurt the most was the sub-state game in Murfreesboro against Blackmon High School. With 1.6 seconds left in the game, a referee from 35 feet away called a technical foul in a tie game. Blackmon made the two free throws and it cost us the ballgame. Our team deserved to be in the state tournament,” he recalled. “Another big loss was to Maryville in 2007. We lost in overtime and Maryville went on to win the state championship. I made a couple of coaching decisions that I wish I could take back.
“Our biggest wins were any in the state tournament and winning over Cleveland. Also, winning the Arby’s Classic (Bristol) when we beat White Station, who was the state champion at the time. We also won the Huntsville Times Classic which was a prestigious tournament in Alabama against very tough competition,” pointed out Kent.
He stepped down at age 52 after coaching for over 20 years. “I had knee replacement surgery in the summer and was planning on returning but I just did not have the fire burning to continue. My coaching style was intense and I didn’t want to not give it my all,” he confessed. “I had seen coaches that had stayed too long and I didn’t want to fake it. It was the right time to step down. My dad (Gary) used to say to me, “get out before you hate it”, so it was time.”
“The biggest reward I had in coaching was not the wins and losses, but the relationships I had with my players. I told them when they came in as freshmen that I would coach them hard, but I would love them for life. I am still in contact with many of them to this day. Many have become husbands and fathers and it is great to see what they are doing in their lives now,” Kent stressed.
Kent’s family always followed his career. His mother is Marguerite (Muggs) Miles Smith.
“My father was Gary Kent Smith and he passed away in 2011. He was always the first person I called after every ball game. He was a big competitor and that is where I got my competitive spirit. It was always fun to rehash the game. I have one brother, Alan Smith, and two sisters, Leslie Painter and Lindsey Bell, a theater teacher at BCHS. My wife of 33 years is Karen Smith and I have two daughters, Megan Smith (Cleveland) and Jordan Smith (Atlanta). Both of my girls cheered for basketball and it was always fun to look over and see them cheering for us. My nephew, Miles Christian, who played for me, is now the head girls’ and boys’ soccer coach at Cleveland High,” he concluded.
Note: Statistics information provided by Gary Ownbey