Coe-Brown coach continues to keep Bears successful – on and off court

  • ABOVE: Coe-Brown coach David Smith yells over the crowd during last season’s D-II boys’ basketball championship at the University of New Hampshire’s Lundholm gymnasium in Durham. Smith has been a steady presence on the Bears’ bench for nearly three decades. Elizabeth Frantz photos / Monitor file

  • Coe-Brown coach David Smith embraces then-senior Michael Mulligan (12) after awarding him a medal following a loss in the Division II boys’ basketball championship last season at UNH. Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Coe-Brown coach David Smith talks to players during last season’s D-II boys’ basketball championship at UNH in Durham. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor file

Monitor staff
Thursday, January 18, 2018

Nobody outside the program expected much from the Coe-Brown boys’ basketball team last season, not after the Bears finished 11-8 the year before. Yet they went 18-3 and reached the Division II championship game before falling to Lebanon.

After losing four starters from that runner-up squad, the outside expectations were once again low for Coe-Brown heading into this season. And once again the Bears are proving themselves with a 5-1 start that has them near the top of the D-II standings.

Scott Spenard, the lone returning starter, is a great cornerstone for Coe-Brown. The senior point guard scores bunches of points in a variety of ways, creates for his teammates and menaces on defense. The Bears have built around Spenard with the emergence of players like seniors Kyshaun Rowell and Brendan Eaton and junior Lucas McCusker, none of whom played major minutes last season but are now starting and thriving.

There’s one other constant for the Bears, the same constant they’ve had for 28 years – coach David Smith.

“He’s a huge part of it,” Spenard said. “You have to give credit to the players, too, but he puts us in positions where we can maximize our potential.”

No one is faster to give credit to the kids than Smith, 72, who has also been the headmaster at Coe-Brown since 1980.

“It’s really about the kids, and they’re great kids,” Smith said. “They’re working hard and we have some players that I don’t think get a lot of notice because maybe they’re not flashy, but they have great fundamentals. They’ve worked hard and now that they’re seniors, it’s their time to shine and they have done that.”

The fundamentals come from hours in the gym over years of time, but they also come from Smith. Just ask his son, Mike, who is now in his 18th year as the boys’ basketball coach at John Stark.

“I didn’t understand how amazing he is at teaching the fundamentals until I started coaching,” said Mike, who played for his father at the youth, middle school and JV level. “When I first started coaching I just assumed that every kid who came out of middle school would have this set of fundamentals, but then I realized how rare that was and how lucky I was to have a Hall of Fame coach coaching you growing up.”

The elder Smith, who was inducted into the NHIAA Hall of Fame in 2009, absorbed the fundamentals at an early age in New Durham and playing for Don Jacques at Alton High School. Smith took coaching classes as an undergrad at Plymouth State and landed his first coaching job the same year he graduated from college – 1967. Make that coaching jobs, plural.

He was hired as the boys’ basketball varsity coach at Alton (now Prospect Mountain) in 1967, a position that also included coaching the JV boys’ team, the middle school boys’ team and the middle school girls’ team, as well as teaching social studies.

“My buddy Frank Weeks and I would spend our entire weekend in the gym,” Smith said with a grin.

He coached at Alton from 1967-80, leading his teams to 12 playoff appearances and two title games (1972 and 1979) in those 13 years. Since taking over as the varsity coach at Coe-Brown in 1990, Smith has led the Bears to the 1997 Class M championship and three runners-up (1998 in Class M, 2003 in Class I and 2017 in D-II). The gym at Coe-Brown bears his name – Smith Hall.

All the winning and recognition are welcome, but those aren’t the real goals for Smith.

“I remember for him it was always much more about molding everyone into gentlemen rather than just star basketball players,” said Tim Hough, who was the team manager for Smith in 2004-05 and is now the VP of Stadium Operations for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. “And a lot of his qualities I now use in my job here with the Fisher Cats – how to manage people, how to get the best out of people, how to lead.”

Hough recalls how Smith made him feel an equal part of the team even though he was a manager and not a player. He remembers how Smith knew everyone at the school by name, all 700-plus students, and not just the basketball players.

“It’s bigger than basketball for coach. He wants you to do well on the floor, but he’s also the headmaster of our school, so he wants you to do well academically,” Spenard said. “And some people think, ‘Oh you’re on the basketball team and you can get away with stuff in school,’ but he actually holds you to a higher standard because you’re a student-athlete. That’s why he’s special, I think. He’s more than a coach to us, he’s a mentor.”

Spenard and Hough aren’t the only ones who think Smith is special.

“His former players will still come back. It’s not a rarity to see guys who he coached at Alton show up at a Coe-Brown game,” Mike Smith said. “I’ve seen them come a lot and I think that’s a testament to him – he never gives up on his guys.”

What makes it more incredible is that Smith’s “guys” now range in age from 50s to teens. He more than acknowledges that kids have changed over the years – he embraces it.

“Their environment is different, their thought process is different, their phones are different,” Smith said, waving his own cellphone in the air to demonstrate his point, “and all that has affected them, so you have to change with the times. And I think the kids are great no matter what time it is.”

That’s a clue to the secret of Smith’s longevity – he loves the process. Yes, he likes the winning, but it’s the preparation to win that he really loves.

“It’s nice to have a common goal – to try and get better – with a group of kids that are willing to buy into the process,” Smith said. “It’s therapeutic for me.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341, tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)