After one season with the Seattle Seahawks, former Westover football and basketball star Dallis Smith returned home to help out his mother, who raised his six brothers and sisters by herself. Smith eventually got into coaching and was later inducted into his college hall of fame at Valdosta State, and Monday he will be enshrined into the Albany Sports Hall of Fame. (Albany Sports Hall of Fame/Special to The Herald)
ALBANY — There was that time with the Seattle Seahawks, that moment at the crossroad, that life-changing pivot when Dallis Smith took a right turn (well, the right turn) back to Albany and then all the way back to Westover High School.
That’s where it all began for Smith, and it’s where he is today — at Westover, where he played sports as a kid and coaches as a man, carving out his own legacy and stamping his name on a basketball program that has as much tradition as any in Georgia.
WHO: Dallis Smith, Tommy Sharpe, Verna Brown, Frank Hedrick and Kevin Samuel.
WHAT: 26th annual Albany Sports Hall of Fame Induction ceremony.
WHEN: Monday — 6 p.m., doors open; 6:30 p.m. banquet begins.
WHERE: Albany Civic Center — banquet room.
MORE INFO:(229) 431-1200.
Those are some of the reasons Smith will be inducted into the Albany Sports Hall of Fame on Monday night during its 26th annual ceremony, taking his place along with four other inductees.
“It’s a great honor,’’ Smith said. “I never thought I would go into coaching, but it has turned out to be a good decision. (I) get a chance to help and work with young men and help develop their basketball skills and help develop them as young men.”
Smith then added: “My mom always said God must have had a plan for me to work with kids. And my wife always says I have a knack to work with kids.’’
Simply put, Smith is a natural — and a slam dunk choice for the HOF.
“He’s qualified,’’ said B.B. Rhodes, the president of the Albany Sports Hall of Fame. “Westover has always had a great basketball program, and he has done a good job there. And anybody who makes it to the NFL …That’s (not easy at all). He’s done a lot in sports.’’
His passion for basketball, coaching kids and his love and respect for the program at Westover all but define Smith, who bleeds Westover blue and red, giving his own decisive meaning to the term Patriot.
His Patriots have won 284 games in 11 seasons, and made five trips to the Final Four and one to the state title game in an era when powerhouse teams from other areas in the state stock their rosters with stars from in and out of their school district. Meanwhile, Smith wins with kids from Northwest Albany — a testament to his skills as a coach and motivator.
And Smith is as good off the court as he is on it.
“He’s the epitome of what we’re trying to do at Westover,’’ Westover athletic director Harley Calhoun said. “He came home to Westover to coach and he’s been successful not only in athletics but by helping them become young men.’’
Smith is the only current member of Westover’s Hall of Fame. And there’s a good reason for that.
“Since I changed the criteria for our Hall of Fame, he is the only one in the Westover Hall of Fame,’’ Westover Principal William Chunn said. “Four years ago, I changed the criteria so you had to be an athlete at Westover, a college athlete, a college graduate and a member of your college’s hall of fame, and he is the only one to meet that criteria.
“He’s a fine coach, a fiery coach and a great coach. And a class guy, a first-class guy. I have never heard him swear at an athlete, and he has never done anything while coaching that wasn’t first-class in all the time I have known him. He’s deserving of being in the Albany Sports Hall of Fame, and I congratulate him.’’
Smith was a tremendous athlete at Westover and was the starting point guard for the Patriots along with his twin brother, Dennis, who is now a high school principal in Cincinnati. Dallis still holds school records for the most steals in a game and the most steals in a career. He intercepted 13 passes in one year at Westover and he and his brother, who also played in the secondary, played for Westover’s first winning football team. Westover’s only had four winning seasons in its football program’s history — and Smith was on two of them.
Smith and his brother both earned football scholarships to Valdosta State, where Dallis holds the school record for most interceptions in a season (9) and most passes broken up (40). He still holds the Gulf Coast Conference record for most interceptions in a career (21), and he was inducted into the Valdosta State Hall of Fame in 2009.
His ability as a defensive back carried him all the way to the NFL, and Smith got his chance when he signed as a free agent with the Seahawks and played for Seattle during the 1987-88 season. He left the NFL and came back home to find a career in coaching, both on the football field and basketball court.
He helped coach defensive backs at Albany High in 1992, and he coached defensive backs from 1993 through 1995 at Westover. He was the defensive coordinator at Westover from 2000 through 2001 as he came to the school because of the prodding of the legendary Willie Boston, who won six state basketball titles at Westover.
Smith, however, says initially he came back to Albany for one reason — his mother, Jimmie Smith, who had brought up seven children by herself.
“I never really thought about coaching,’’ Smith said. “When I left Seattle I came back home to help my mother. I had a degree in business and an associates degree in data processing and wanted to go into business.’’
But Boston thought Smith would make a great basketball coach.
“Before I got back home he, (Willie) had been to my house to talk to my mother about me going into coaching, and when I got home he was one of the first people to come by the house,’’ Smith said. “He wanted me to go into education, and I went back to school. I had some opportunities in football, (like) the Canadian League, but felt I needed to come home and help my mother.’’
Smith earned his masters in education from Georgia Southwestern and began teaching at Dougherty Middle School. In 1993, he took a job at Westover, serving as Boston’s assistant coach until Boston retired in 2000.
“He was kind of groomed for the job,’’ said Albany High athletic director Archie Chatmon, who has been coaching basketball at Albany High for 27 years. “The last couple of years that he was an assistant he took on more of an assistant head coach’s role. It really worked out for him.’’
Chatmon, also a Westover graduate who played for the Patriots, has the utmost respect for Smith.
“He’s done a great job as I expected he would,’’ Chatmon said. “He’s smart and he believes in defense. He does a great job adjusting to his personnel without losing the identity of the team. When you prepare to play his teams, you have to prepare for everything. He has rewarded all of us old Patriots by doing such a good job.’’
Smith has left his own mark on the program, which is respected throughout the state.
“Boston was my motivator,’’ Smith said. “Those were big shoes to fill. I felt if I could get them to the place where when people talk about basketball in South Georgia then Westover’s name would come up. And if you play Westover, you have to play hard. I thought if I could do just half of what (Boston) did that people would feel to play Westover you’ve got come with it.’’
And Smith has left an indelible mark of the kids he has coached.
“The best thing (for us) was his decision to come back to Dougherty County and coach our kids, and to give something back to the student-athletes at Westover,’’ said Johnny Seabrooks, the Director of Athletics for Dougherty County and an 11-year member of the Albany Sports Hall of Fame who was on the nominating committee that selected Smith. “A lot of athletes play here, and then they want to leave, but he chose to come home, and chose to give something back.’’
Westover couldn’t have been happier about that decision, and as it turned out it cemented Smith’s name on a program he already loved and respected.
“During that era when he played at Westover is the beginning of those great runs and tradition of Westover basketball that was known throughout the state of Georgia,’’ Seabrooks said. “He played on teams in that history. He grew up in that history, and now he coaches in that history.’’
Smith, who played on Boston’s first team that reached the state playoffs in 1982, preaches Westover’s history to his kids reguarly, wrapping his teams in the deep, rich tradition of the program, and Chatmon said that belief and Smith’s embracing of the team’s tradition has lifted the Patriots.
“They have won quite a few games on tradition alone,’’ Chatmon said. “They’ve won games they weren’t suppose to win because they believe they are special and believe they are suppose to win.’’
That’s part of what Smith does, and one of the reasons his teams are feared and respected every season, regardless of talent.
“He maximizes his talent,’’ Calhoun said. “He wins even in seasons when the talent isn’t as good as other years. Dallis will never give up on a kid. And when a kid has a bad day, he will find something positive. He pushes his kids and his team, and he’s very successful. He’s a great coach.’’
“He’s very competitive and he likes working with kids,’’ Calhoun said. “We’re very fortunate he came back home to coach at Westover. Dallis has come full circle. He played here and now he coaches here. He’s deserving to be in the Albany Sports Hall of Fame.’’
No one knew then that the crossroad that led Smith back to the Good Life City would lead him to the Hall of Fame, but it’s a journey he wouldn’t have had any other way.
“No, no regrets,’’ Smith said with a smile. “When I left Seattle, there were some opportunities, and I could have done some other things, and I could have gone anywhere, but I came back home. It’s been a pretty good decision …’’