Hall of Fame Coach Still Fond of Auburn

Sonny Smith talks about his induction to the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and his days at Auburn.

Birmingham, Ala.--Sonny Smith has seldom found it difficult to find to find something to say, but the former Auburn basketball coach notes that his induction to the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame just about made that happen.

"You how people say it is hard to put something into words," he says. "That is how I feel about this honor.

"First of all, I was surprised it would happen," Smith tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "I wanted it to happen, but I didn't know if it ever would happen because I had one of those peaks and valleys careers. I was way up sometimes, way down sometimes.

"Because it is the place I have chosen to make my home here in Alabama, I would say this is one of the best things to ever happen to me," says Smith, who lives in Birmingham with his wife Jan. "That is the way I felt when I found out about it and the way I feel today."

Smith joined former Auburn swimming coach David Marsh and former athletic director David Housel as inductees into the state's sports of hall of fame. A series of ceremonies and events Friday through Monday honored the men.

Smith, two time SEC Coach of the Year at Auburn, led the Tigers to their first ever NCAA Tournament bid in 1984 and first ever SEC Tournament title in 1985. The following year he became the first, and still only coach, to lead the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament final eight.

Although no longer coaching, Smith is still active on the sports scene.

"I will still do basketball for the Atlantic Sun (conference) and I will still do selected games for other conferences," he says. "I will still do the TV show with Wimp (Sanderson) called Talking Hoops on CSS. We have had a lot of fun doing that. It is kind of a takeoff from our radio shows. The radio show was extremely popular in this town and probably one of the best things that ever happened to us. I would have to say it probably had a lot to do with me getting in here along with coaching at Auburn."

The former Auburn coach is shown with his plaque that is on display at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in Birmingham.

Smith says he recently had another job offer, but decided to say no. "I am 70 years old," he says. "I think it is time to cut back a little bit. Jan and I are so set in our ways we need to develop other interests and work is not one of those. They tried to hire us (Sanderson) back into radio recently and I turned it down. The reason we did is that Jan and I kind of wanted to stay in that freedom mode that we never seemed to have."

Smith and his wife, who suffered a serious medical problem when he was coaching at Auburn, live on the southside of Birmingham. "Jan is doing great," he says. "Her health is wonderful. She loves being near the grandkids so we are in good shape."

Smith has coached around the country, including stops as the head man at East Tennessee State and Virginia Commonwealth. He says he really enjoyed his time at Auburn from

"Everything at Auburn was good for me," says Smith, who posted a 173-154 mark in 11 seasons starting in 1979-80 after taking over for Paul Lambert, who died in a hotel fire prior to coaching his first game at Auburn.

"Auburn is the best job I ever had," Smith says. "I don't have any bad memories of Auburn. The only thing that I regret while I was at Auburn was that on my good teams I never had more than seven good players. I never had nine or 10 and that really held you back in the things you could do.

"You could only play one kind of defense," Smith says. "If I would have been able to get nine or 10 players, we could have played differently. With seven that meant you had to play a defense that would keep your best players in the game. Guys like Charles Barkley and Chris Morris would have fouled out if we played man."

Smith notes that his favorite group was the one that won the 1985 SEC Tournament with Frank Ford and Gerald White at guards along with Chuck Person and Morris at forward and Jeff Moore at center. That group was the core of three straight 20-win seasons, including a run that came up one game short of the Final Four in 1986.

That 1985-86 team defeated Arizona, No. 1 seed St. John's and UNLV in the NCAA Tournament before losing to eventual champion Louisville in a game at Houston that Auburn looked like it might win until Moore got into foul trouble. "I always thought we were one sub away from winning the national championship."


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