Gideon Smith Honored with 2014 Trailblazer Award
Gideon Smith, the first African-American athlete at Michigan Agricultural College, now Michigan State University, and former head coach at Hampton University, has been named the American Football Coaches Association’s recipient of the 2014 Trailblazer Award. The award will be presented posthumously at the AFCA President’s Kickoff Luncheon on Monday, January 12 at the 2015 AFCA Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. Smith passed away in 1968 at the age of 78.
The AFCA Trailblazer Award was created to honor early leaders in the football coaching profession who coached at historically black colleges and universities. Past Trailblazer Award winners include Charles Williams of Hampton (2004), Cleve Abbott of Tuskegee (2005), Arnett Mumford of Southern (2006), Billy Nicks of Prairie View A&M (2007), Alonzo “Jake” Gaither of Florida A&M (2008), Fred “Pops” Long of Wiley (2009), Harry R. “Big Jeff” Jefferson of Bluefield State (2010), Edward P. Hurt of Morgan State (2011), Vernon “Skip” McCain of Maryland-Eastern Shore (2012) and Marino Casem of Alcorn State (2013). The award is given each year to a person that coached in a particular decade ranging from 1920-1970. This year’s winner coached from 1920 to 1929.
Smith was a standout defensive tackle for Michigan Agricultural College known for his brutal and physical play. Smith was the first African-American athlete to play a sport for Michigan Agricultural College and was one of the very first African-American men to play college football. In 1913, Smith and the Aggies defeated the Michigan Wolverines for the first time in school history, 12-7. Smith played a key role in the game by taking down Michigan’s quarterback several times. After becoming the first African-American male to graduate from Michigan Agricultural College, Smith left for a professional football career.
Smith played his professional career with the Canton Bulldogs, and although he only played a single season; Smith and teammate Jim Thorpe led the team to a league championship. Following one season with the Bulldogs, Smith left to serve in World War I. Upon his return in 1920, he would become a professor at Hampton Institute (Hampton University) and become the head football coach one year later. In his second season as head coach, Smith and the Hampton Pirates won the black college national championship in 1922 with a 5-1 record. Smith would go on to be the face of Hampton football and lead the team from the sidelines until 1940. Under Smith, the Hampton Pirates claimed five Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) conference championships, a 97-46-12 overall record, and had one of the most dominating defenses of their time.
Smith’s teams finished in the Top 10 fewest points allowed defensively for 12 seasons. After retiring from coaching in 1940, Smith served as Hampton’s assistant athletic director for 15 years. In 1947, Smith showed his devotion to education by returning to Michigan Agricultural College to earn his masters degree. In 1955, Smith retired from his position as assistant athletic director at Hampton.
In addition to being recognized as the 2014 AFCA Trailblazer Award recipient, Smith has been inducted to the Hampton University Athletics Hall of Fame and was a charter member of the Michigan State Athletics Hall of Fame.