Hilliard hosts Randy Smith Preseason Tipoff
Hilliard Middle-Senior High School held the inaugural Randy Smith Preseason Tipoff Nov. 13 and 15. Hilliard, Fernandina Beach, Providence and Episcopal competed in the two-night tournament.
Smith coached at HMSHS for more than 20 years and retired after approximately 35 total years of coaching.
“I was surprised,” he said of the honor before the final game. “There’s been a lot of really good coaches come through here in football, basketball.”
Current Lady Flashes Coach Tara Franklin assumed leadership of the basketball team from Smith. She said he truly built up the program she now leads.
“He walked into this program after we had some really good years in the ’80s and were kind of in between,” she said.
Smith accepted the coaching position at HMSHS in May 1994 and held conditioning throughout the summer.
“That summer was just really a whirlwind,” Franklin said. “We practiced probably five days a week in the old gym (now the Town Gym) in the summer. He really transformed that program. … He really came in and took Hilliard’s girls basketball program to the next level.”
The varsity went to the regionals in 1994 and the Final Four in 1995, falling 47-44 to The First Academy, according to www.fhsaa.org. The Lady Flashes competed in regionals 1996 through 1998, in 2002, in 2003 and in 2009 under Smith’s leadership.
His biggest frustration as a coach was how the Florida High School Athletic Association set up classifications, with small public schools competing against private schools that could recruit athletes.
“We lost to a first-year private school and that’s when I said this has got to change, because we worked too hard to have an AAU team that’s also playing as a school team beat us,” Smith said. He added that the FHSAA instilled changes four years ago, allowing small public schools the chance to compete. “At least kids can walk on the field and know they deserve it and have a chance now.”
During his career, Smith coached a variety of sports.
“I’ve coached everything except girls volleyball,” he said. “It’s all about teaching. It’s all about the kids. You try to teach them morals and build character.”
Former University of Florida and current NBA Coach Billy Donovan is his favorite coach.
“He said you have to remember that you’re coaching people, not players,” Smith said. “You have to see them as people for them to be coachable as players.”
Attending the tournament was a tough task for the coach who retired from education permanently two years ago.
“The hardest thing I ever had to do was retire,” he said, looking off into the distance and pausing before continuing, “When something is your life …”
Though it’s hard for him to stand on the sideline as a fan, he admires Franklin’s coaching style.
“No matter what happened that night, the message at the end of the night is going to be positive,” Smith said.
Two of his athletes earned FHSAA Player of the Year honors – Erin Conner and Brianti Saunders. He noted that both are unselfish players whose style made their teammates want to play ball. During his tenure, Smith was also named as the Class 2A Coach of the Year, according to Franklin.
“He built a lot of sound fundamentals coaching this program,” she said. “Personally, he taught me about all the other factors of coaching.”
Those factors include instilling camaraderie among the athletes, setup and breakdown of a game, setup of practices and breakdowns of drills.
“He’s really the guru of hos to run a basketball practice,” Franklin said.
John Wooden, late UCLA coach, is who she tries to emulate, as he touted, “God, coach, then everything else.”
“At the end of the day, they’re kids,” Franklin said. “The sport is just the vehicle that God has given us to minister to these kids.”
Since assuming the head coach position, Franklin has led the Lady Flashes to the Final Four in 2012 with a 49-45 loss to Newberry, 2013 with a 55-50 loss to Chipley and 2015 with a 45-30 loss to Wildwood.