CHICKASHA – Coaching, Chicago and community. These three words represent the cornerstones of Robert Smith’s hugely successful career.
The 1996 USAO graduate achieved a milestone this past spring when he became the winningest high school coach in Illinois history, compiling a career record of 230-37 at Simeon High School in Chicago.
“I set a goal for myself when I first started coaching,” he said. “I set the goals high, and I was able to reach them in a short time in my career. Winning five State Championships and being named the Best Coach in Illinois History is great.”
Smith is one of nine former athletes to be honored at the 40th Anniversary of Athletics, scheduled on USAO’s campus Nov. 1-3.
“I decided to come to USAO to give myself a second chance with my career in basketball,” Smith said. “I had a great time while at USAO. One of my highlights was when we beat Oklahoma City’s men’s basketball team at USAO, and they were ranked No. 1 in the country.”
Recently, Smith was linked with an assistant coaching position at NCAA power Illinois University. In April, espn.com reported that Smith was one of the candidates to join Head Coach John Groce’s staff.
Smith, who played for Head Coach Brisco McPherson from 1993-94, always had a little bit of a coach in him.
“He played like a coach when he was on the floor,” McPherson said. “I always knew that he would go on to coach, but I never knew quite the impact he would have.”
While a student at USAO, Smith was honing his belief in the importance of helping the community. Dr. J. C. Casey, communication professor, remembers conversations with Smith about his plans for the future.
“His goal always was to go back to Chicago, coach at his old high school and give back to the community,” she said. “That idea of making the community stronger was always in the conversation.”
Smith said he credits Casey and McPherson for helping prepare him for his future success.
At 40, he has compiled an impressive record of accomplishments.
Smith took over the program at Simeon in 2004 and since then has won five state titles — more than any other high school program in the state — in what is widely regarded as the most competitive high school basketball scene in the U.S.
He has said in interviews that his program at Simeon isn’t a typical high school setting.
“I run [my program] like a college already,” he told Matt Zickus, a writer for csnchicago.com. “It’s not a typical high school, as you can see. I’ve coached some great kids. I’ve had some talent, so I understand how to coach talent.”
Even young men who are exceptionally talented — Smith’s protégés include Derrick Rose, 2008’s top draft pick by the Chicago Bulls, and this year’s Jabari Parker, who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated earlier this year — subscribe to Smith’s team-centered philosophy.
“(Some of my career highlights were) coaching at Madison Square Garden in New York, and being able to coach Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker,” he said. “Also winning five State Championships.”
His win-loss record is 230-37, a chart-topping percentage of .861. His own mentor and high school coach, the late Bob Hambric – who coached 23 years and whom Smith succeeded in 2004 – is 11th on the list with .804.
Some, like longtime basketball recruiting analyst Roy Schmidt, believe that what sets Smith apart is his ability to get his players to buy in to Smith's philosophy of “the team,” to check their individual egos at the door when they come to play basketball at Simeon.
Now in his ninth year as Simeon’s head coach, Smith is still loyal to Chicago and the state. He would like to see Illinois become the basketball power he believes it can be and has indicated that he would like to be involved in that transformation.
For now, however, Smith will continue the winning tradition at Simeon, where he also serves as the dean of students. He knows he makes a difference in the lives of his players.
Smith’s profile is part of a nine-story series featuring an alumnus from each of USAO’s current and former sports. Each of the alumni featured will be honored with a special award at the 40th Anniversary of Athletics, scheduled Nov. 1-3, 2012, on USAO’s campus.