Panther baseball coach Smith readies for final season
MIDDLEBURY — Longtime Middlebury College baseball coach Bob Smith will retire in May following the completion of the 2016 season, the college announced last week.
Smith, 65, is now in his 32nd year as the team’s head coach, with over 800 games under his belt. He also served as an assistant football coach at Middlebury from 1979 to 1994 and served as the track and field coach from 1980 to 1984.
Smith will retire in May after 38 years on the athletics staff at Middlebury. In that time, he has also served as the director of club sports and director of physical education, and he currently presides over the intramural program.
Smith said he felt it was the right time for the move.
“It is time to inject some youth into the program, and it feels like the proper time for it to happen,” said Smith. “Middlebury has always been a wonderful place to live and work from day one until now. The growth and changes over the years mark the importance of athletics in the education process here at Middlebury.”
His tenure drew praise.
“Coach Smith is retiring after a career marked by outstanding service to Middlebury College and Middlebury athletics,” said Director of Athletics Erin Quinn. “Bob is an exceptional athlete himself, and I believe his experience as an athlete allowed him to adapt to the many roles he has served in over his career.”
Former Panther shortstop and current Amherst coach Brian Hamm chimed in.
“Not only is Coach Smith Middlebury baseball’s winningest coach over 31 years, he has done this in a way only he can,” Hamm said. “In an era where a ‘winners-take-all mentality’ tends to be the standard, he has maintained his integrity, humility, kindness and passion for the sport and, most of all, for his players in a way that is emblematic of someone to truly emulate. He has put Middlebury on the map in an increasingly competitive college baseball landscape, while never losing sight of what it means to mentor student-athletes and encourage them to pursue their dreams both on and off the diamond.”
Hamm praised Smith’s longevity and values.
“To spend three-plus decades at one institution is a rarity in college athletics, speaking to both his loyalty towards Middlebury and his dedication and appreciation for the community at large,” added Hamm. “Playing for Coach Smith and then against him as a fellow NESCAC coach, I have been honored to count myself as a part of the Middlebury baseball family and I impart the lessons I learned from him to my own teams.”
THE EARLY DAYS
Smith took over the baseball program in the spring of 1985. In the spring of 2006, Smith led the team to its most successful season in school history. The team won the NESCAC title and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history. The squad broke more than 10 single-season team records, while setting a new school mark with its 26 wins. Smith was named the NESCAC Coach of the Year at the conclusion of the season.
In 1999, the team made its first postseason appearance when it qualified for the ECAC Tournament after a 20-15 mark. Later that spring, Smith received the Edward P. Markey Award, given by St. Michael’s College to the person who has made outstanding contributions to Vermont collegiate baseball. He also garnered NESCAC Coach of the Year honors for the first time in his career.
The 2011 season saw the Panthers return to the postseason by taking part in the NESCAC tournament. Smith enters the 2016 season with a career mark of 357-443-5.
“Seeing our baseball program reach heights that included a NESCAC Championship and appearances in the ECAC and NCAA Tournaments were some of my fondest memories,” said Smith. “My involvement with some very strong football teams through the ’80s and ’90s were also some great times for me.”
Smith helped orchestrate the football program’s offense for several of his 16 seasons under head coach Mickey Heinecken. The Panthers boasted 7-1 marks in both 1981 and 1992.
Smith played football at the University of Delaware, graduating from there in 1972 and then taking a graduate assistant job at the University of Maine. He became a full-time assistant coach the next year and received his master’s degree there in 1976. Smith then took a job as a football assistant at Maine Maritime Academy in the 1976–1977 year, and then as an assistant at Gettysburg in the fall of 1978 before arriving at Middlebury in the fall of 1979.
“It is hard to imagine there are many people who have touched more students than Coach Smith has over his 37-year career and his various roles at Middlebury,” said Quinn, who added the college would begin a search for a new coach this spring.
Smith reflected on his tenure.
“I’d like to thank Middlebury College for the opportunity to work with so many quality people, including our students, support staff, my coaching colleagues, and our administration. I take great pride in being a longtime member of such a professional and unselfish group of people. They made coming into the office a pleasure each day,” Smith said.
“I’m appreciative of the great students with whom I worked both on the varsity teams as well as in all of the intramural sports for their commitment and respect they gave to the sports that I love so much. I humbly and thankfully say let’s go Blue!”