Naperville coaching legend Smith dies at 98

  • Longtime Naperville Central coach Dick Smith with one of his former players, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, and Saints QB Drew Brees.

    Longtime Naperville Central coach Dick Smith with one of his former players, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, and Saints QB Drew Brees. Courtesy of Bill Seiple

  • Dick Smith, North Central College Class of 1948, was inducted into the college's Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005 for football, baseball and basketball. Smith, who coached in Naperville over 30 years, passed away recently at 98.

    Dick Smith, North Central College Class of 1948, was inducted into the college's Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005 for football, baseball and basketball. Smith, who coached in Naperville over 30 years, passed away recently at 98. Courtesy of North Central College

 
 
Updated 12/17/2020 8:17 PM

Some have called Dick Smith, who died recently at the age of 98, the greatest coach in Naperville history.

Bill Seiple isn't going to argue with that title. Seiple played baseball for Smith at Naperville Central from 1969 to 1971, and he succeeded Smith as coach in 1981.

 

Smith, who also coached high school basketball and football and is in the North Central College Hall of Fame, left a legacy beyond high school sports. He helped start both Little League and Pony League baseball in Naperville.

"He had his hands on so many things," Seiple said. "He was a terrific guy. He did everything well. So respected. Excellent teacher. He had quite a legacy."

Seiple went on to a long career himself as Naperville Central's baseball coach, winning the 2006 and 2010 state titles.

He never forgot the lessons he learned playing for Smith.

"His expectations were you do it the right way," Seiple said. "It's why we were successful. I was fortunate to follow in his footsteps. He built it, it was his show. The expectations and ideals he had were always first and foremost in my mind."

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Smith's 1969 team made it to the state tournament with a 20-3 record.

"For me, he was the standard," Seiple said. "He was the guy you had to impress, he was the guy you had to do things for. Still remember getting my tail chewed a few times. Ultimate respect for him. The program he created and 12 years later I succeeded him and he couldn't have been kinder and more supportive. An awesome guy and I was proud to have him in my life."

Smith also coached Naperville Central's football team from 1971-76. He was an assistant to JR Bishop when New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton played for the Redhawks.

Smith started out as a basketball coach in the 1950s, and he finished as an assistant to Andy Nussbaum's first softball team in 1984.

In between he impacted hundreds of athletes in so many sports.

"The thing about Smitty, the unbelievable thing is he started in the 1950s at Naperville High School," Seiple said. "Naperville looked a lot different in 1955 than it does today. The stuff he was involved with and the impact he had in our community is unbelievable."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

When Smith retired as a physical education teacher in 1985, Mike Stine took his place. Smith moved out of state, but he always returned for North Central homecoming games and made sure to also see Naperville Central play.

Stine has been the school's football coach since the 2006 season.

He developed his relationship with Smith through phone calls. Stine said Smith would call once or twice a year to check up on the team.

"His conversations he always cared about you," Stine said. "He made you the center of it. He was always calling to see how I was doing, see how the season outlook looked. He was calling because he cared about you as a person."

In addition to North Central College, Smith made three other Hall of Fames. He continued officiating basketball after retiring, working some games with Seiple.

Seiple said when Smith returned for football games, he often would make it up to the press box where Seiple was the public address announcer.

"He had to be well into his 80s and he'd be sitting there and it was unbelievable," Seiple said. "He'd be calling the other team's plays before they happened. He would snap right back into football mode.

"We were lucky he was sharp to the end. I saw him in his 90s and it was like talking to him when he was teaching. We were really fortunate to have him as long as we did."

Stine called Smith a father figure and somebody he looked up to when he began coaching.

"The impact he has had, the number of people he's impacted in his life, it's amazing," Stine said. "My interactions with him through the years, he always had that same bubbly personality. When you picked up the phone you knew it was Smitty, he had a very distinctive voice. You knew who was on the other end.

"Dick was a great man. It's a loss for definitely Naperville. There's not a lot of guys like Dick Smith still around. He's a true treasure and is going to be greatly missed."

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