ALTAMONT — Brad Smith, the legendary, longtime head coach of the Labette County Grizzlies boys basketball team, informed USD 506 this week that he will retire from coaching and teaching effective immediately.
“It was a shock quite honestly,” Labette County athletic director and head football coach Sean Price said. “Coach Smith is always energetic and he loves kids. His life is all about kids. So I was surprised, I really didn’t see it coming. I don’t think anybody did. Coach Smith is somebody who thinks things through and this is the decision he came up with. So I’m sure it was the best thing for him and his family.”
Smith took over the head boys basketball job at Labette County in 1994 and served in the position for 25 seasons. Over his career, Smith amassed a record of 289-262 with the Grizzlies.
He guided Labette County to three SEK League titles in 2003-04, 2005-06 and 2008-09. Labette County also qualified for the KSHSAA state tournament five times under Smith’s tenure — 2000, 2004, 2006, 2017 and 2018.
Labette County played for a state title in 2000, where they lost to KC Sumner 66-57 in the title game.
“He’s an icon,” Price said. “He’s coached a lot of players and their kids too. He’s been the foundation of Labette County basketball. I don’t know if you replace somebody like that. It’s a tough job following somebody who’s won so many games. The way he’s molded kids makes them better people. He’ll be tough to replace, no doubt.”
The move came as a surprise internally but was albeit not unexpected by USD 506 administration.
“The integrity that Coach Smith brought to Labette County and the athletics program will be hard to replace,” USD 506 superintendent John Wyrick said. “He’s as genuine and as caring of an individual as you’ll ever meet. I’m truly going to miss him.”
Smith was also the longest tenured boys basketball coach in the SEK League. Parsons head coach Anthony Houk said Smith had been a staple of the region’s hoops scene.
“I was kind of surprised,” Houk said. “I figured he’d stay in it a couple of more years. But I understand that when it’s time, it’s time. Coach Smith has done a lot of positive things for basketball in this area, including the SEK League. He’s always been an advocate for basketball in this area and promoting local kids. He’s done a lot of positive things and he’ll be missed, for sure.”
Smith is the second coach in the league to leave his post this offseason as Chanute boys coach Max Ruark also resigned earlier this season.
Javon Reliford, who played for Labette County from 2014-18 before graduating and continuing his career at Neosho County Community College, remembered Smith’s impact on him as a player. Reliford was the star point guard on the 2016-17 and 2017-18 teams that made back-to-back state tournaments.
“Ever since I was young, he was always really excited to see us,” Reliford said. “He was excited to have me get to high school. Anytime he could help me in any way, he never hesitated. He was just another father figure. Anybody who needed help, he gave it. He put everyone before himself.”
Brad Smith was more than a basketball coach to me. He was an inspiration & continuously pushed me to be the best person I could be. Much love Coach❤️ pic.twitter.com/jJgcHB1SdZ— J🤟🏾 (@Magic_Reliford) June 6, 2019
A 1980 graduate of Chaparral High School, Smith played college basketball at Southwestern College in Winfield.
Smith spent a total of 33 years as a head coach in Kansas. After spending four years as an assistant coach at Maize from 1984-88, he became the head coach a Maize for six seasons (1988-94). There, Smith amassed a record of 65-62 before taking over in Altamont. He retires with a career head coaching record of 354-324.
“He is legendary in this program and around this area,” Wyrick said. “Not just Southeast Kansas, but Coach Smith is known across the state of Kansas and is well respected. He’s been such a great role model over the past 20-plus years. The relationships he’s built with kids that are now young men with families of their own, it’s all been tremendous.”
According to Wyrick, Smith will still remain in the community with his wife, Kimberly, who will continue her role as a teacher at Altamont Grade School.
“When you think of everything he’s done, his wife has been right there with him,” Wyrick said. “Both of them are icons here. Kids have been a part of their lives for years. I admire what Brad and Kim have done for our community and our school and thousands of kids. They’ve made an impact everywhere they’ve been.”
In addition to being a longtime coach, Smith taught physical education at Labette County. Wyrick said a hiring committee will be formed to fill that vacancy.
“We’ll form a committee that’ll have administration on it, a staff member from the high school and a board member or two,” Wyrick said. “We’ll screen applicants and find the right person. We’re going to look for a teacher first and a mentor.”
Wyrick said whoever takes over Smith’s teaching position could also be the candidate to fill the boys basketball coaching gig.
On an interim basis, assistant coaches Brian Tucker and Bradley Argabright will take over summer duties for the Grizzlies’ boys basketball program. Wyrick said those two met with the players on Thursday and intend to follow the summer schedule of camps and jamborees.
Smith could not be reached for comment for this story.