A longtime fixture in Southeast Kansas will no longer be patrolling the sidelines.
Brad Smith has relinquished his coaching duties at Labette County High School in Altamont, Kansas, where he led the boys basketball program for 25 years.
As far as his retirement from the USD 506 school district, Smith said the timing felt right.
“It wasn’t an easy decision because Labette County has meant so much to me,” Smith said. “I’ve had a wonderful career. All the kids I’ve coached and taught over the years … it doesn’t get any better than them. I just want to be remembered as someone who really cared about the kids.”
After taking over the program in 1994, Smith led the Grizzlies to 289 wins and five state tournament appearances, including a runner-up finish in Class 4A in 2000, along with three Southeast Kansas League titles.
“I’m proud that we had a consistent program,” Smith said. “When teams played Labette County, they knew our teams would play hard and it was going to be a competitive game, no matter if we were at the top of the league or at the bottom of the league.
“I’m also proud of how many of my former players have become great dads and great people in their communities,” Smith added. “Guys like Ryan Odaffer (of Carl Junction) come to mind.”
Smith, who coached at Maize from 1984-94 before moving to Labette County, has 35 years of coaching experience on his resume.
During Smith’s tenure in Altamont, Labette County played for 10 sub-state championships and had 52 all-league selections and 29 all-state picks.
Smith, who has been involved with the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association, noted he had a lot of help over the years.
“You have to have good assistants and I’ve had wonderful, loyal assistants,” said Smith, a product of Chaparral High School and Southwestern College in Kansas. “And I had some really good players. And the community here has been really supportive for 25 years.”
Smith said he always attempted to be a role model for his student-athletes.
“I think that’s what a high school coach should be,” he said. “I think I’ve presented that to our community.
“I once had a school board member tell me that I get too close to my players,” Smith added with a chuckle. “I’m not sure how he meant it, but I said, ‘Thank you very much.’ The comment meant a lot to me. In this day and age, you have to build relationships with the players or it’s hard to coach them.”
Former LCHS standout Javon Reliford would agree with that last statement.
“Brad Smith was more than a basketball coach to me,” Reliford tweeted. “He was an inspiration and continuously pushed me to be the best person I could be.”
In a career full of milestones, Smith found himself coaching against one of his former players, Coffeyville coach Tyler Thompson.
“I had him in grade school and then years later he’s trying to beat me,” Smith said with a laugh.
The longevity also allowed Smith to witness former rival players become opposing coaches, like Max Ruark, who prepped at Coffeyville for Dan Wall before coaching at Chanute. Smith noted he’ll miss coaching against the likes of longtime friendly rivals like Fort Scott’s Jeff DeLaTorre, Pittsburg’s Kiley Roelfs and Parsons’ Anthony Houk.
Although his coaching and teaching days at Labette County have concluded, Smith admitted he wouldn’t rule out a return to the sidelines if the right opportunity came up.
“I’m going to take some time off, but I may not be done with coaching,” he said. “We’ll see. I know I’ll miss it.”