Arizona Football

Larry Smith to be inducted into Arizona Wildcats Hall of Fame with 2016 class



Arizona Class of 2016 Hall of Famer Larry Smith coached his last game with with the Wildcats in the 1986 Aloha Bowl ( photo)

Arizona Class of 2016 Hall of Famer Larry Smith coached his last game with with the Wildcats in the 1986 Aloha Bowl ( photo)

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Thirty years after he coached his last football game with Arizona, Larry Smith will finally be inducted posthumously into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame this year.

The school announced to its alumni this morning that Smith was one of three individuals and four NCAA championship relay teams to be part of the class that will be honored in the fall in the 40th anniversary of the hall of fame. The school has yet to officially release the news but former player Julius Holt, father of freshman-to-be lineman Justin Holt, broke it this morning with a Facebook post.

Smith’s wait to join the hall of fame was particularly long inasmuch as he coached his last collegiate game at Missouri in 2000. He and his wife Cheryl kept a residence in Tucson and that’s where he stayed, often attending Arizona football games, until he passed away in 2008 after a nine-year bout with leukemia.

Ironically, the news today of Smith’s hall of fame honor falls on the same day he passed away eight years ago.


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Arizona coach Larry Smith is carried off the field by the Wildcats following what he called was their most prestigious win in the program's history (Click on photo to access YouTube video)

Arizona coach Larry Smith is carried off the field by the Wildcats following what he called was their most prestigious win in the program’s history (Click on photo to access YouTube video)

Larry Smith’s UA teams knocked off six top-10 teams during his tenure from 1980-86.

1980: Beat No. 2 UCLA 23-17

1981: Won at No. 1 USC 13-10

1982: Won at No. 9 Notre Dame 16-13.

1982: Beat No. 6 ASU 28-18, starting a nine-game unbeaten streak against the Devils.

1985: Beat No. 6 SMU 28-6.

1986: Downed No. 4 ASU 34-17.


Many former players and fans believed the length of Smith’s wait to join the hall of fame was because he left Arizona for conference rival USC in 1986. Smith was 48-28-3 in his seven seasons with Arizona, which included prosperity early in his tenure despite the program having to serve a two-year NCAA probation for violations committed by the previous staff.

“People might never realize the job he did from bringing the program from the depths of despair,” former Arizona athletic director Cedric Dempsey told the Tucson Citizen after Smith’s passing. “They lived under a cloud of NCAA investigation for four years. His accomplishment was building the program under adverse conditions and being able to recruit when no one knew what would happen to the program.

“He was able to put the program on a solid basis.”

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Smith’s family and former players at Arizona rejoiced in the news this morning with the message that the honor is long overdue.

“Well, the U of A Hall of Fame committee final did something correct and got something right and removed their self serving egos out of the way,” Julius Holt wrote on his Facebook page. “This should have (happened) years ago. The most deserving honor that could ever bestowed for a great coach at any level.

“To all the guys and gals who played, coached and (worked) with Larry Smith please try to make it to his induction. THEY FINALLY GOT IT RIGHT. CONGRATULATIONS TO COACH SMITH AND THE SMITH FAMILY. I’m not sure about you guys but this man took a chance on me and saved my life from the ghetto to man, dream, success, hope. Dreams do come true I’m thankful and blessed to call Coach Smith, father, mentor, motivator and Coach.”


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His daughter, Ali Smith, messaged to me on Facebook about the honor: “He would be so proud! Well deserved and long overdue.” His son, Corbin Smith, is carrying on the family name with football, serving as director of the Larry Smith Coaching Academy that takes place in late June in Gilbert.

Ali mentioned that her father knew of current coach Rich Rodriguez from when they coached against each other in a 1999 game when her dad was head coach at Missouri and Rodriguez was an assistant at Clemson.

Although Larry Smith coached only seven years at Arizona he left a lasting legacy. Among his achievements:

— Upsetting No. 2-ranked UCLA at Arizona Stadium in his first season on 1980 when it appeared the Bruins would become the No. 1 team after Alabama’s upset loss earlier in the day.

— Upsetting No. 1-ranked USC and Marcus Allen in his second season at the L.A. Coliseum, the school’s only win over a top-ranked team on the road.

— Upsetting No. 9-ranked Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., in 1982 on a last-second field goal by Max Zendejas.

— Establishing “The Streak” against rival ASU, turning the tide against the Sun Devils from when Frank Kush dominated the series. Smith’s teams upset No. 6-ranked ASU in 1982, knocking the Sun Devils out of the Rose Bowl as Year One of “The Streak”, a nine-year unbeaten run against the school up north. In his last game with Arizona in Tucson in 1986, Smith coached the Wildcats to a 34-17 win over Rose Bowl-bound ASU.

— Winning the school’s first bowl game, a victory over North Carolina in the 1986 Aloha Bowl.

Smith also coached Arizona to its highest ranking in school history — No. 3 into the 1983 season, which was the first of two years the Wildcats had to serve the NCAA probation that included a bowl ban.

Larry Smith’s 24 years as a head coach came to an end at Missouri in 2000. He also coached at Tulane, Arizona and USC. Before that, Smith, a native of Van Wert, Ohio, was an assistant coach for nine years at Miami (Ohio), Michigan and Arizona.

Seven Arizona players earned All-America honors during his tenure, including two-time consensus All-American linebacker Ricky Hunley (the best player to ever wear the Arizona uniform), Morris Trophy-winning center Joe Tofflemire and other standouts like Zendejas, quarterback Tom Tunnicliffe, running back David Adams, cornerbacks Randy Robbins and Allan Durden, linebacker Byron Evans and safety Chuck Cecil.

More than 20 of Smith’s Arizona players went on to play professionally.

“My first reaction was hallelujah!” Robbins, a nine-year NFL veteran with Denver, messaged me this morning. “This honor is well deserved to a loving man, father, and coach. After my father, Coach Smith is the second most influential male figure in my life. He taught us how to compete in everything we do in life.”

Julius Holt also posted this message on his Facebook page: “It’s not how high you build your dream that makes a difference, but how high your faith can climb. It’s not how much you accomplish but how many lives you touch. Coach Smith touched, changed and saved thousands of lives.”

The former linebacker/defensive tackle mentioned to me a few years ago that Smith had one of the best lines a coach can offer when the Wildcats prepared to play the Sun Devils in 1982 when ASU came to town thinking it was bound for the Rose Bowl.

“I remember hearing our coach (Smith) remind us that this was our house and this is our bowl game and to make it count tonight,” he said. “(Smith said), ‘Leave nothing to be questioned but much to be remembered’, and I think we did that.”

Before the upset of top-ranked USC in 1981, Holt recalled Smith telling the Wildcats: “Sixty men together on the same page can’t lose.”

“He always let you know that you were as good as anybody you were facing,” Hunley told the Tucson Citizen in 2008. “He started on that from Day One. We weren’t going to be anybody’s steppingstone.”

The other 2016 Arizona Sports Hall of Fame inductees include Autumn Champion (softball, 2002-06), Sean Shields (track and field, 2002-06) and four swimming relay teams. publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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