"Well, I'm not coaching with the aspirations I had before," Smith says. "I'm no longer climbing the mountain." Not long ago he circulated to his colleagues a statement of his situation as a student, explaining he has completed 10 of the 16 one-semester courses he needs to finish at Harvard and sketching a remarkable plan for flying back and forth, starting in February of 1981, to take Harvard midterms, participate in UCLA recruiting and spring practice and take his divinity school finals.
Kathy works in the UCLA recruiting office, "to pay the plane fare for all the spring travels." She's devoted to her husband, though not without a sigh. "No predictions from me on what next," she says. "Homer loves this game. He so missed the association with the players. And it's good to have his career end, if it does, on a lot higher note than the way it did at Army."
But Smith keeps that end vague. "My desire is to stay at UCLA until the quarterbacks can get to precisely the right play against each defense they see and execute it professionally," he says in his memo. "Beyond that, to secure a teaching job where I can develop in the subject of the world's religions."
"It is man's unique distinction that in the duality of his composition heaven and earth meet."
Marius Bewley, commenting on the metaphysics of John Donne.
"...If not, then heaven and hell."
Homer Smith, after UCLA lost to Oregon 20-14 on Nov. 8.
The integrity of college football has had far finer years than 1980. Scrutiny has turned up a clandestine brokerage of no-work classes and extension courses and the presence of assistant coaches whose value to their teams apparently consisted of figuring out ways to get transcripts altered. Five schools, including UCLA, have been ruled ineligible for the Rose Bowl by the Pac-10 because of academic violations. Not many coaches publicly denounced the cheating as flatly, morally wrong.
Two weeks before UCLA defeated Arizona State to improve its record to 7 and 2, Smith sat over a meal in the UCLA student union and pondered these recent events. He began with an examination of pressure, which inevitably follows, he said, "from playing the game in front of people who demand to have hope, demand to win.
"To justify the championship pressure, you have to look at the bottom, the kids just beginning at the base of the pyramid. I know it is good for these tens of thousands of young people to try to be players, if only for a little while. Part of what we do must be physical. Athletics take the place of the most destructive of physical options, of war, of drugs. It is good to stimulate play among us, and if that means pressure at the top, so be it."