KSU's dismissal of Smith a surprise in Harrodsburg

March 19, 2004|MIKE MARSEE

HARRODSBURG - The dismissal of Donald Smith at Kentucky State University came as quite a surprise to some of those who know him best, and apparently to Smith as well.

Smith, a Harrodsburg native who has coached Kentucky State's football team for the past three seasons, was fired Wednesday by the school.

School officials have given no reason for their action, which came exactly one month after he was suspended without explanation.

Smith was not available for comment.

Two people who are close to Smith said Thursday they were stunned by the announcement from Kentucky State.

"I'm just totally shocked by what has happened at this point," said Terry Yeast, who is Smith's cousin and the football coach at Harrodsburg High School, where Smith coached from 1998-99. "I've known Donald all my life, and I would trust him with anything. That he would be put in a position to be dismissed baffles me."


Alvis Johnson, who coached Smith at Harrodsburg in the 1980s and is now an assistant athletics director at Kentucky, said Thursday that he spoke to Smith after Smith learned of Kentucky State's decision.

"It was a total shock to him," Johnson said. "He's doing OK, but obviously he's not happy with the events that have taken place. He really thought he had the program headed in the right direction."

Yeast said he hadn't spoken with Smith since Tuesday night, when the two were together at the banquet where Johnson was inducted into the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame, but he said he's sure Smith didn't see his dismissal coming.

Suspended without pay on Feb. 17

Smith, 36, was suspended without pay on Feb. 17 by Kentucky State interim president Bill Turner after "information was brought to our attention which required immediate action," according to the school's statement at the time.

Turner told The State Journal of Frankfort that information came from interim athletic director Curtis Campbell, and Turner said he made the decision to fire Smith after consulting with Campbell and others.

Turner would not comment on specifics of the investigation, raising more questions than answers in Harrodsburg.

"I don't know all the details, but we all know that Donald absolutely did an incredible job finishing the way they did last year, and they stood to get better in the years to come," Johnson said. "Obviously, I think they're making a terrible mistake."

Alvis Johnson said Smith doesn't have all the answers he wants, either.

"They have not given him a lot of answers," he said.

Yeast said that was also the case after Smith was suspended last month.

"Nobody's giving him any answers, that's all he really said to me," Yeast said.

Johnson said he isn't sure if Smith will fight his dismissal, but he said it's possible.

"If he takes my advice, he will," Johnson said.

H.M. Snodgrass, the superintendent of Harrodsburg's schools, said Smith did nothing wrong while employed there.

"I was shocked to hear that, given the fact that he had moved the program significantly farther ahead toward winning," Snodgrass said. "Donald is considered to be of high character, so it's surprising when you take that into account."

Thorobreds were 7-4 last season

Smith left Harrodsburg to coach at Lafayette in 2000, then left for Kentucky State, where he was 13-20 in three years. The Thorobreds went 7-4 last season and finished second in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

Yeast worked under Smith in Frankfort in the 2001 and 2002 seasons before leaving to coach their alma mater.

"They struggled with a lot of different things like discipline and getting kids headed in the right direction," he said. "In my two years of being there and watching the program grow and seeing them this year, I think everything was headed in the right direction, and then something goofy like this comes up."

A search for a new coach at Kentucky State is under way. Assistant head coach Roderick Johnson, who has been running the program since Smith was suspended, will continue to do so but will retain his current title.

Alvis Johnson said he thinks Smith will coach again in the future.

"I'm sure (he) will if he wants to," he said.

"It doesn't matter what he does, I think he'll definitely land on his feet," Yeast said. "He's a strong Christian man, and God will take care of him."

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