|« Coach isn’t sure Cal Poly is properly ranked at 7-0||Towson head coach accused of breaking rules and making offensive remarks »|
Tough calls on the coaching circuit
The worst trash talk Norfolk State’s receivers coach Quintin Smith hears each week often comes from his 12-year-old daughter.
Channing Smith has drawn up football plays for years and calls the Dallas Cowboys the Alice Cowboys. Her parents call her a tomboy and “rough-and-tumble,” an excellent basketball player who prefers sneakers to girly shoes.
So when Quintin questioned why she sent him a text message during the middle of school, she fired back in typically feisty fashion.
“We’re allowed to,” she told him.
“Yes, but why were you texting him in the middle of the school day?” her mother Rhonda asked.
“Because I miss him,” Channing replied.
Football coaches face long hours and public scrutiny. As an assistant at the Football Championship Subdivision level, they have little job security and constant pressure.
The most difficult challenge, though, may be maintaining some semblance of a normal family life.
“You raise everyone else’s kids,” NSU head coach Pete Adrian said. “But sometimes you’re not raising your own.”
Smith, Norfolk State’s newest coaching addition, goes out of his way to do both. While he lives in a spare bedroom in Adrian’s house, Quintin’s family is in Missouri City, Texas. The uncertainty of coaching, and the limited FCS paycheck, keep his family at home.
Smith makes $43,000 as a first-year assistant. Rhonda worked as a senior client manager for United Health Group until her position was eliminated in July.
Quintin’s connections to Rhonda, Channing and 15-year-old son Grayson come by daily phone calls and lengthy sessions on Skype. He calls Grayson at 5:30 each morning, then calls Channing an hour later. After that, he’ll touch base with his wife.
After football meetings all day and NSU’s nightly practice, and after the rest of the coaches head home, Quintin settles down at his computer to help with homework.
From Sept. 24 to Oct. 16, Quintin spent more than 11 hours on his computer, video chatting with his family.
“It’s my way to see them every day,” Quintin said. If I was there I’d be doing it. I’m just sitting here doing it. I don’t know if it’s the highlight of their day, but they don’t have a bad day on it.”
Two framed photos sit directly in the center of his work space, one of his two children, the other of him and Rhonda.
Nearby is a whiteboard with offensive plays on it and a list of ten focuses for the week’s practices. Last Tuesday, squeaks came from the gym floor below him as he sat down at his office computer.
“There are nights you can tell he’s exhausted,” Channing said. “He’s exhausted. We’re exhausted. We get grumpy. But we do it every day.”
Quintin does homework sessions with each child individually at least four times a week. After that, he talks with Rhonda, brief moments that the kids call “her twenty minutes of fame.”
Last Tuesday, Channing got her father’s attention first.
She rifled through her book bag, looking for her planner. Quintin put a hand over his mouth and turned to the side.
“You can see why it takes more than an hour a night,” he whispered.
When she couldn’t explain how she arrived at an answer for a group assignment, he joked that she needed to find smarter students to copy. When she paused to look for a pencil, he held one up to the screen.
At one point she tried to convince him she hadn’t looked up a word because the dictionaries were in the garage. She held up quizzes and he questioned wrong answers, teasing her for errors.
“What’d you miss on a map?” Quintin said, peering at a blurry quiz pressed against a video camera in Texas. “You’ve only been to 25 of the 50 states.
“Capitals? You know Georgetown is not a capital of anything. And, what’s that? Where is Central America? Below Mexico, right? Like, somewhere in the middle?”
“Possibly,” Channing said.
“Possibly, yeah,” Quintin said, then laughed.
While doing her math homework, Channing showed Quintin a problem, and he worked it out quickly on white paper, holding it up to the screen.
“Explain your theory, sir,” she commanded after a particularly complicated problem.
Math was Quintin’s strongest subject growing up.
“He gets really offended if you question him on math,” Channing said. “So when he gets one wrong, I do.”
Still, the evening meetings don’t make up for Quintin’s absence.
Grayson, a 15-year-old high school sophomore, misses having his father at football games and practice. He often sleeps on the couch downstairs, where his dad sometimes fell asleep, and has begun to consider himself “protector of the house.”
Channing sleeps on her father’s side of the bed and says she’s keeping his spot warm. Her mother, Rhonda, has caught her in their closet, smelling her father’s clothes.
“I try not to tell him about these things,” Rhonda said.
A pair of phone calls to Quintin from his daughter have consisted of nothing but tears. Smith just listened until she wears out.
“She never cries,” Rhonda said. “Not unless she’s very hurt or extremely upset, but this is the ugly kind of cry - snotty, snorting, you can’t make out any words.”
After he was hired, Smith had three days to arrive at NSU for his new job. He’d spent the previous eight years around his family, mostly working as a high school coach and teacher.
“It’s tough,” Smith said. “But it’s part of the profession.”
None of this is unfamiliar territory for Smith.
Three days after marrying Rhonda, Smith went on a scouting trip for the Kansas City Chiefs, delaying a honeymoon that, 18 years later, still hasn’t occurred.
When she was pregnant with Grayson, Rhonda tried to form a father-son bond by holding a telephone to her stomach. When she was pregnant with their second child, she says, Smith saw her once each trimester.
On his rare visits, Rhonda would tell Grayson to bring something to his daddy. Grayson would totter off toward the telephone.
“I’d tell him, ‘No, Daddy is right there,’ ” Rhonda said.
During a recent interview, Quintin went through his past dutifully - an excellent playing career at Kansas, two years with the Chicago Bears, declining to attend law school after being admitted three different times - but he lit up when discussing his children.
Smith is 11th all-time on the Kansas receiving list and was an honorable mention All-American as a senior. He still holds the Jayhawk record for touchdowns in a game. He played four games and made two catches in two years with the Bears but stays connected with a number of Bears teammates, including former Pro Bowl safety Mark Carrier, Grayson’s godfather.
Despite all that, he bragged about Channing baking for neighbors and making enough money to buy an iPod.
Quintin charges her for ingredients, packaging and delivery costs, cloaking business and math lessons in father-daughter time.
He raves about Grayson’s passion for history, something the two share. Like his father, a political science major who is just a thesis paper short of a graduate degree, Grayson devours politics and watches CNN religiously.
When told U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter died, Grayson recognized him as the creator of the “magic bullet theory.” The conversation detoured into a discussion on Kennedy conspiracy theories.
“It changed forensics,” Grayson claimed.
“See what I told you?” Quintin said. “We could do this for hours.”
Last Tuesday, Quintin was the only coach left in the NSU football offices.
After 45 minutes in front of his computer, Quintin said good night to his family. It was a short talk by his standards, but he’d skipped Rhonda to make it an early night.
By Chris Carlson, The Virginian-Pilot
He washed out his coffee pot and packed up his belongings.
“I’ve got to get out of here,” Quintin said. “I’ve got to go watch the (presidential) debate so I can talk about it with my son tomorrow.”