What many have forgotten, if they knew in the first place, is how poorly it began.
In Mike Smith's first game as Hampton High's head coach, the Crabbers were beaten 24-13 by First Colonial. In his second, Hampton lost 32-14 to Ferguson.
Think about it. Under this 30-year-old newbie from the absolute tip of Southwestern Virginia, the mighty Crabbers were 0-2 for the first time in a decade.
But the school stuck by him. Forty-one years later, the King of Queen Street remains on the job. And on Thursday night, Smith will coach his 500th career game — all coming at Hampton.
To put that in perspective, Smith's nine counterparts in the Peninsula District have coached in a combined 460 games.
"Does it make me feel old?" Smith chuckled one morning after practice. "That's the question, isn't it? It's been a little bit demanding on my body this fall, but the kids are great and it's still fun. I hope I'll be smart enough to get out of it when it's not fun anymore."
For Smith, his 41 seasons at Hampton have seen plenty of fun. With a record of 428-69-2, he has a career winning percentage of .860. Bear Bryant's winning percentage was .780.
's was .707,
's .743, Tom Osborne's .836.
"To be as consistent as he's been for as many years as he'd done it, that's incredibly impressive," Woodside coach Danny Dodson said. "And to have the competitive fire to do it that long is amazing."
Smith's name is all over the record books — state and national. His 428 wins rank him first (by only 113) in the VHSL's and fourth in the National Federation of State High Schools Associations'. He's won 12 Group AAA state championships, and his longest title drought has been six years.
His career has seen one milestone moment after another. He won his 400th game on Nov. 8, 2008. It came nearly nine years after his 300th, which came nearly nine years after his 200th. To him, this one is no different.
"I don't think too much about it," he said. "I just think about the next game."
The most remarkable tribute to his consistency is the fact that Hampton has made the playoffs in 34 of the last 35 years. The first 29 of those came in the days when the Eastern Region field was only four teams, not eight as it's been since 2007.
"I've had a great staff and some really great kids to coach," he said. "They always say you can't win the
on a mule. We've had some thorough breds."
True enough. Ronald Curry,
, Marques Hagans, Alex Hill … the list goes on. As for his staff, Danny Mitchell has been his loyal lieutenant the past 33 years. Alvis Mann was on the staff for even longer before his recent retirement. Myron Newsome has with Smith since 1998.
Smith's career has spanned 10 (going on 11) presidential elections, from Nixon to Obama. Hampton has had nine principals, and the other nine members of the Peninsula District have made a combined 51 coaching changes.
"Five hundred games, that's kind of mind-blowing," Phoebus coach Stan Sexton said. "I mean, I know he's been around a long time and coached a long time and he's had a great program a long time. But when you put it in a number like 500, that's impressive. I've maybe coached in 200 games counting when I was an assistant."
Smith will turn 71 on Sept. 12, but his health is good and his mind sound. If you listed every game he's coached, one by one, chances are he'd remember something about each.
Like a 7-6 loss to York in his first season. "We hit the doggone punter right before halftime," he said, shaking his head, "and that cost us the game."
But he knows that someday soon, maybe very soon, he'll hang it up. As of now, that day is unplanned.