Smith's last years at Army were ones of spreading doubt. "The nature of coaching is that with repetition it can come to seem static," he says. "Another year of recruiting, work, organization. I began to regret being submerged in football to the exclusion of all else."
Always a man of deep and clear belief, Smith felt a "nagging desire to get involved in the religious side of things." In this he was encouraged by his wife, Kathy, and later, when he had inquired about courses of study, by Harvard.
The 1978 season was unlucky. "We had some injuries," Smith says. "We lost some games we shouldn't have." On Dec. 2 Navy beat Army 28-0 in Philadelphia. A day later Smith addressed the team at lunch on the way back to the Point. There was silence as he spoke. "Men, I had to win," he said. "And I didn't. I'm history. I hope you get a great coach and he keeps the whole staff."
The Smiths reached home and saw a neighbor turn her back as they drove up. Kathy was in tears—that a game should have come to this. "Let's make a move," said Smith. "Let's drive on to Cambridge." And they did.
The next morning Smith telephoned the Army football office. Assistant Coach Ed Wilson told him to call his brother Dean's number in Omaha. When he did, Smith learned Dean had been killed when his car skidded on ice and hit a train.
The Smiths drove back to West Point that day. Deputy Superintendent Bagnal came to their house, Smith recalls, with a typed statement. He could barely read it. "My brother is dead," he said.
The statement was Army's announcement that Smith's contract wouldn't be renewed. It spoke of his management shortcomings, of a need for "revitalization" of the program. "They wanted it clear that they had fired me," Smith says. "I wanted to resign—to exit gracefully. I will never understand the coldness of that action."
Smith went to his brother's funeral. "I had people standing around at the funeral home asking me questions about football. It was the most awful thing in the world," he says.
In his distress, Smith released a statement listing the rule violations which he felt Army had been committing, and detailing the "organizational hell" he had worked under. He asked as well for an apology. None was forthcoming. In October of this year, after hearings based on Smith's charges, the NCAA reprimanded Army. Earlier Army had undertaken some corrective action.
"I think I was terribly wrong in insisting on an apology from an institution," Smith says now.