Ex-Beaver 'in a good place' at UW
A visit to Corvallis isn't just a business trip for Jonathan Smith. It's a walk down memory lane.
So forgive Washington's co-offensive coordinator if he gets a trifle emotional when the seventh-ranked Huskies (4-0 overall, 1-0 in Pac-12 play) invade Reser Stadium for a 5 p.m. Saturday meeting with Oregon State (1-3, 0-1).
Smith was OSU's starting quarterback for 3 1/2 seasons, including the glorious 2000 campaign in which the Beavers went 11-1. To end that season, the junior QB earned the MVP award as OSU pummeled Notre Dame 41-9 in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl.
As a freshman, the 5-10, 195-pound Smith came off the bench to throw for a still-school-record 469 yards in a 35-34 loss at Washington. That season, he was at the controls when Oregon State beat Oregon 44-41 in two overtimes, the game many consider the greatest ever in the 125-year Civil War rivalry.
"The campus, the stadium, the (Tommy Prothro) practice field, Gill Coliseum — there are always fond memories when we get back to Corvallis," says Smith, 38. "I reminisce a little bit.
"We had some special wins at home. Beating the Ducks twice ... beating Cal to clinch a bowl game my sophomore year ... the Fiesta Bowl. But I think not just about all the games. I think about our coaches, the practices, my teammates ... those are things I'll never forget."
Smith played for both Mike Riley (1998) and Dennis Erickson (1999-2001), then served as a graduate assistant under both (Erickson in 2002, Riley in 2003) at OSU as he was beginning his coaching career.
The Glendora, California, native served six seasons as quarterbacks coach at Idaho (2004-09) before a two-year stint as offensive coordinator at Montana (2010 and '11). Chris Petersen then hired Smith as quarterbacks coach at Boise State. Two years later, when Petersen moved on to Washington, Smith went with him to Seattle as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Last season, Washington was 12-2 and hammered Colorado 41-10 in the Pac-12 championship game before losing 24-7 to top-ranked Alabama in the Peach Bowl. With Smith calling plays, the Huskies set school single-season records for touchdowns (77) and points (586) while averaging 41.8 points per game.
This year's Huskies beat Rutgers 30-14, Montana 63-7 and Fresno State 48-16 before taking care of the Buffaloes 37-10 in Boulder on Saturday. How good are they?
"Yet to be determined," Smith says. "At times, we can be really good. We have some new guys we're still trying to assimilate into things. I just don't know yet."
Smith's relationship with Petersen has been "really good," he says.
"We're in year six now together," Smith says. "We've been around each other so long now, we know how each other operates. He makes it fun to come to work, but he also challenges you. He allows you to develop and grow as a coach, and I appreciate that.
"I'm very happy with the program, the players I get to recruit, the Seattle area. I'm in a good place."
During the offseason, Petersen hired Matt Lubick to coach receivers and serve as co-offensive coordinator with Smith, who coaches quarterbacks and calls plays. Lubick coached defensive backs and was recruiting coordinator under Erickson at OSU during Smith's sophomore and junior years.
"Matt was hugely responsible for recruiting guys like Steven Jackson, Nick Barnett and Richard Seigler — guys who could really play," Smith says. "It's been good to have him on the staff here. Our operation hasn't changed any. He brings things from the defensive side that have helped. He has coached throughout the league (at OSU, Arizona State and Oregon), which is a huge benefit. We're still running the same system. We still practice the same way. The players' responsibilities are still the same."
Smith says he has enjoyed his play-calling duties.
"We have established an identity for what we're trying to do offensively," he says. "We're a group effort on offense, really, in putting a game plan together. Every offensive coach contributes. We map it out beforehand, put a call sheet out — what we like to do in red zone, third down and so on — and have an idea what we want to do in every scenario. I'm the one making the calls once the game is on."
It's a pressure-packed situation that places Smith in a goldfish bowl every Saturday.
"That's part of the deal," he says. "I don't worry about it. The head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach — those guys are going to get criticism at times, but also maybe unfair praise at other times. It's just part of the business."
Smith has had a blast coaching junior quarterback Jake Browning, a Heisman Trophy candidate who is off to a sensational start this season.
"Jake's a special kid," Smith says. "Competitive. Talented. Works really hard. Not overly gifted athletically, but he can move his feet. He's a great decision-maker and really accurate thrower. It's been a pleasure to spend time with such a quality kid who loves football."
How will Browning's talents transfer to the NFL?
"I think well," Smith says. "He's not huge, but he's not totally undersized, either, at 6-2 and 210. He has a great chance to excel at the next level."
Smith and his wife of 15 years, Candice, have three children — Robert, 9; Bella, 7, and Charles, 3.
"I love being a father, I really do," he says. "During the season, it's tough. I'm spending so much time on the job. When we have home games, one of the kids will come stay with me at the team hotel on Friday nights. I make every effort to spend time with them, but it's never enough."
Does Smith aspire to be a head coach one day?
"I think so," he says, "but my favorite part of the job is the on-field coaching. Nowadays, head coaches have so many other responsibilities for the overall program.
"I know this: I would do it, for sure. But I'm going to be selective. You really get just one crack at it. I want it to be the right time, right place. I don't think about it a ton. I'm enjoying what I'm doing. I have a great job, I get paid well, and I get to work with great guys. It would need to be a special opportunity for me to leave."