Lovie Smith stroked his white beard and smiled when asked about the wisdom and knowledge he’s working to impart to the Texans’ defensive players.
“You can tell, I’ve been doing it for a while,” the Texans defensive coordinator and associate head coach said.
A member of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, Smith, 63, has deep roots in Texas football.
Growing up in East Texas in Big Sandy, Smith won three consecutive high school state championships as an all-state linebacker and defensive end whose 1975 team allowed just 15 points for the season with 11 shutouts.
His final high school football game: an all-star game at the Astrodome. When Smith arrives for work every morning at NRG Stadium, he walks by his past.
“It’s special,” said Smith, who last worked in the state of Texas in 1980 as the defensive coordinator at his high school following an All-American football career at Tulsa. “Anywhere I've ever been, anybody knows where I'm from. They get tired of hearing it, but it's a special state. I've been down Memory Lane an awful lot and really kind of love what I've seen from our Texans team so far. I’m a product of Texas high school football. It’s been home for so many years. Time flies.”
Smith was welcomed back to Texas during a reception Thursday night at Texas Southern University as part of the Texans’ partnership with the school. Saluted by Texas Southern athletics director Kevin Granger and chairman of the board of regents Albert Myres, the former Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and University of Illinois coach soaked up the moment.
“Texas Southern has always been one of those historic universities that has done so much for our community, and they're Houston's own right here,” Smith said. “Whenever you get an opportunity to get out in the community, it's special. Hopefully I have a chance to see Texas Southern play and support them in any way that I can.”
“We want to be involved. We're the professional football team in the city. With that, there's a lot of responsibility. We have great role models, too. A lot of the athletes have goals to do some of the things our players are doing right now. People support us so much. The least we can do is be involved in the community."
Historically Black colleges and universities have a rich history of producing Hall of Fame NFL players, including Texas Southern alum Michael Strahan, Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, Oilers legend Elvin Bethea, Shannon Sharpe and multiple others. Now, two former NFL Pro Bowl players – Deion Sanders (Jackson State) and Eddie George (Tennessee State) are coaching at HBCU schools.
“It goes on and on,” Smith said. “You talk about elite athletes that have played at the highest level, historically Black universities are right at the front. That's great that Deion is bringing attention to the athletes there. It says a lot about him. There is so much we can do. In time, we want everyone talking about Texas Southern, Prairie View, in that same way.
“People talked about the amount of attention, historically Black universities are getting right now, we’ll find you, so it’s as simple as that. The good players will be found.”
Smith frequently visits his family in Big Sandy, where most of his relatives still reside.
“Absolutely, you never get that far from home,” Smith said. “It’s always special when you get a chance to go back home.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.