, Port Arthur, Texas


April 26, 2014

West column: Smitty Hill losing battle with Alzheimer's

PORT ARTHUR — Smitty Hill, one of Port Arthur’s greatest high school football coaches — former players like Gary Hammond, Tighe Huber, Cotton Speyrer, Dennis Howell and Nolton Prince would argue he was the greatest — is gravely ill and could use your prayers. After battling Alzheimer’s for years, Hill’s condition has reached the point that he’s being placed in a Hospice facility in Beaumont. Smitty, from 1966 through 1971, presided over one of the golden eras of Thomas Jefferson football, going 54-11-3 with exciting, high- scoring teams that regularly overwhelmed opponents. His best team was in 1970 when the Yellow Jackets won their first 13 games, outscoring foes 485-93, before losing to Austin Reagan in the 4A semifinals . . . It’s still up in the air whether the Bum Phillips All-American Opera will make it to Texas. Despite being well received by New York audiences, and getting mixed reviews —one of the best was from Adam Chandler in Texas Monthly —  funding continues to be a problem. Former Houstonian Luke Leonard, the driving force behind an opera to honor Bum, said his group did not receive grant money it was counting on and is struggling to figure out its next move. The good news is that Bum’s favorite QB, Dan Pastorini, who made the trip to New York to see the opera, has put together a group trying to raise enough money to bring it to Houston. Let’s hope Pastorini can complete one more TD pass on his old coach’s behalf . . .  The Texas High School Hall of Fame induction ceremonies will have a distinct Southeast Texas flavor next Saturday night in Waco. Former Beaumont Hebert trailblazer Jerry LeVias and UIL executive director Charles Breithaup, who got his start coaching basketball at Buna, Hardin-Jefferson and West Brook — his overall record was 392-92 — are among the seven-person class. LeVias previously was inducted into the College Football hall of Fame and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. Reckon anybody in a school district whose football stadium is named for a superintendent with serious questions to answer understands or appreciates LeVias’ impact?

    Intrigue continues to mount as the buildup to the May 8 NFL draft heads into the home-stretch. Hottest rumor this past week was that the Atlanta Falcons really want South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and are talking to the Texans about trading up to get the No. 1 selection. Since the Texans probably don’t have the nerve to pull the trigger on taking Johnny Manziel No. 1, trading down probably wouldn’t be a bad move. They’d get a good player in Atlanta’s spot at No. 6, plus an extra pick or picks. And, depending, on who you choose to believe, Manziel might still be there. Doubtful but possible . . .  There has been more and more talk that Manziel might not go in the top 10 picks and that’s led to speculation in Dallas as to whether Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who desperately needs defensive help, might make a play for the most exciting player in the draft. Some who cover the Cowboys think Jones would definitely take Manziel, while others, surprisingly, don’t. Take this to the bank. The P.T. Barnum in Jethro would sell his soul to the devil to put Manziel in a Cowboys uniform. For Johnny Football’s sake, I sure hope it doesn’t happen. He needs to play for an organization that makes the playoffs more than once every 20 years . . . OK, conspiracy theorists, make your own call on this one. A couple of weeks ago Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban took a shot at NFL greed and how Roger Goodell’s league is overreaching with added TV exposure of its product. He concluded by saying the NFL would implode within 10 years. Fast forward to last Wednesday night. The NFL, which had been delaying announcing its 2014 schedule, chose to do so on the NFL Network at the exact same time Cuban’s Mavericks were tipping off against the San Antonio Spurs in game two of their playoff series. Coincidence or not???

    Speaking of that 2014 NFL schedule, within hours of its announcement Las Vegas already had odds posted on opening-week games. The Texans, who have no clue at this point as to their starting quarterback’s identity, are a 2 1/2 point favorite over the Washington Redskins. That’s pretty amazing when you consider Redskins QB Robert Griffin III is expected to be back at 100 percent. Dallas, meanwhile, is a 3/12 point underdog against San Francisco at JerryWorld . . . More and more Cowboys fans, by the way, seem to finally be exiting fantasyland and coming to grips with the fact Jethro’s presence insures continuing futility. The Dallas Morning News ran a poll to ask readers to check a box on how many games the Cowboys would win. The biggest percentage (20.4) marked 8-8, with 14.64 percent saying 7-9 and 19.54 projecting 6-10 or worse. That’s slightly over 54 percent who do not expect a winning season. My vote was for 7-9, fueled by a 1-5 finish. I’m picking the Texans to go 4-12 . . . Grim as the outlook seems to be for the Texans, owner Bob McNair can at least flaunt the fact his team is No. 1 when it comes to the fewest arrests since 2010. Nick Eaton of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer did the research and found the Texans to be the only team that has had no players who have been arrested during that four-year span. Denver, Tampa Bay and Minnesota were at the other end of the spectrum with 14 arrests each. Dallas was right in the middle of the pack, with six players having to post bond.

    Athlon Sports, which does a lot of really good stuff on college football, recently celebrated the end of the BCS era by ranking the 16 teams than won national championships under the BCS banner. Texas’ Vince Young team of 2005 was rated No. 3 among all the BCS champs, behind Miami’s 2001 team and USC’s 2004 outfit led by Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. It’s hard to argue with the 2001 Miami team being the best of the BCS champs, since a whopping 16 players off that team would eventually become NFL first-round draft picks. USC and Texas, by comparison had 7 and 4 first rounders, respectively. That Texas had only four No. 1 picks underscores what a force Young was at the college level . . . Among the many things Tic Price plans to do different from Pat Knight as Lamar University’s basketball coach is to schedule smarter. Knight, only partly because his contract required him to bring in a minimum of $225,000 in road-game guarantees, put together two of the most foolish schedules in the history of the program. Price, whose contract calls for him to generate $180,000 in road game compensation, said it’s imperative for a coach to schedule to his talent level. “We don’t want our players losing confidence because they are overmatched and get blown out in non-conference games. That’s been a problem here.” . . . Sometimes getting fired is not a bad thing. According to the coaching grapevine, former Lamar coach Steve Roccaforte got a significant pay raise when he was hired by Buzz Williams at Virginia Tech. With the Hokies making a big push to upgrade their basketball program, Roc’s salary is reportedly in the neighborhood of $300,000. Good for him.

    Sounds like former TJ football great Todd Dodge could be on the move. One of Texas’ top high school coaching jobs — Austin Westlake — is expected to open Monday night when the team’s current head coach, Darren Allman, is hired at Colleyvillie Heritage. Dodge, who won four 5A state titles at Southlake Carroll, almost certainly can have the job if he wants it. Currently the head coach at Marble Falls, he even has family ties at Westlake. His late father-in-law, Ebbie Neptune, is considered the face of Westlake athletics, after spending four years there as head football coach (1982-86), then 22 more as athletic director. In 2002, after Chaparral Stadium was renovated, its playing surface was named Ebbie Neptune Field. It sounds like a slam dunk . . .  Chalk up another milestone for Johnny Manziel. For whatever reason, the website analyzed Google searches for an athlete’s name over the past 12 months to determine who was most popular in each state and globally. Manziel was a landslide winner as most searched in Texas, and ranked tied for 10th globally with NBA stars Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard and the NFL’s Tom Brady. LeBron James, who drew the most Google hits in 13 states, was No. 1 globally with more than 1.83 million searches. Kobe Bryant was No. 2, boxer Floyd Mayweather No. 3 and tied for 4th were Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning and Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls . . . If you stuck with the Rockets 121-116 overtime victory against Portland Friday night until the end, you saw one of the things that make sports so fascinating. With the Rockets season about to go down the drain, Troy Daniels, who spent the season in the D league, buried a game-winning three-point shot in the final minute. In the game only because Chandler Parsons fouled out, Daniels didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger at crunch time. If the Rockets come back to win the series, and it’s a big if, Daniels earned himself a lasting place in Houston sports lore.

    Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at


Text Only
From the Fieldhouse blog