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Vassallo Interviews: Dividends Still Being Derived from Tad Smith

IMG_20150823_183011_585Ole Miss has been the magnet to attract many great individuals through the years, but possibly none greater than Tad Smith.

The former athlete, coach and athletic director left a legacy at Ole Miss nearly impossible to replicate. I recently caught up with his daughter, Clair, and her husband, Bill Gurley, residents of Oxford.

HottyToddy.com: Clair, tell us briefly about your roots as well as Bill’s. 

Clair Gurley: I was born in room 7 of Guyton’s Clinic here in Oxford. Bill is from Dorsey.

HottyToddy.com: Your father, although famous to many Ole Miss alums, may not be as well known to our younger groups. Tell us about Tad’s early years.

Clair Gurley: My father was born in 1907 in Brookhaven. Tulane offered him an athletic scholarship initially. The Green Wave wanted him more for football than baseball as he was extremely fast. The Tulane experience did not work out as he was not allowed to call home as often as he wished. My father was extremely close to his mother and missed the family greatly while away at school.

HottyToddy.com: Tulane’s loss was our gain, but what was the catalyst that brought  “Tad” Claude Maxwell Smith to Oxford?

Clair Gurley: A gentleman by the name of Guy Turnbow accidentally met my dad on the train when he departed New Orleans only after a few weeks there. Guy actually was the reason my father came to Ole Miss.

HottyToddy.com: We are apparently talking about the 1920’s and an era foreign to many of us youngsters. Tell us a little about your dad during this time set.

Clair Gurley: My dad started out at Quarterback wearing number 7 and in 1929 he played both football and baseball. He was 6 feet tall and exceptionally fast. His two best friends and roommates were Bobby Jones and Rube Wilcox during this period. Rube would later start the Ole Miss Loyalty Foundation together with my father.

HottyToddy.com: In 1931, apparently Tad’s role changed somewhat.

Clair Gurley: Yes, that’s correct. He began coaching football (the backs) and graduated  that year. While at Ole Miss, he met his future wife, Mary Frances Clark Smith, who was from Biloxi, nicknamed “Bunch.” They were married in 1931.

HottyToddy.com: What happened next?

Clair Gurley: My dad left for Georgia Tech where he pursued his Masters Degree in Physical Education. Mary Frances received her degree in accounting. Dad was in Atlanta two summers. In 1932 he returned to Ole Miss to coach baseball and football.

HottyToddy.com: With the war years approaching in this period, did this impact your dad?

Clair Gurley: Dad spent two years in the Navy (stationed in Panama) getting our soldiers into training condition. While in Panama, he coached the military’s baseball team which enjoyed an unprecedented degree of success playing against such well known stars as Ted Williams among others.

HottyToddy.com: Wow! What an interesting life and it’s only beginning!

Clair Gurley: My father returned to Oxford in the 1945-46 timeframe when he became Athletic Director shortly thereafter. Upon his return from the Navy, he landed in Memphis and immediately attended the Ole Miss-Memphis State football game.

HottyToddy.com: Your father is credited with so many success stories, but one of the leading ones was his hiring of John Howard Vaught.

Clair Gurley: Coach Vaught was an assistant backfield coach who worked very well with my father. The duo decided that they wanted Ole Miss to have a program better than anything previously. The rest of the story is history.

HottyToddy.com: Ole Miss would win the SEC championship in 1947 and five times thereafter. Your father was certainly instrumental in all of this. Clair Gurley: Dad was actually the recruiter in addition to his other duties. He was a major part in attracting the Poole’s and other coaches and players to Oxford.

HottyToddy.com: Your dad was also a great family man and apparently did everything in his ability to make your childhood a happy one.

Clair Gurley: Although we lived on campus in this timeframe, dad obtained a black horse for me because of my affection to these animals. The horse could not live on campus with us so dad arranged for him to be close at a residence on Fillmore.

HottyToddy.com: Your father was a visionary well beyond his years very similar to our current AD.

Clair Gurley: Dad hired the first ever college football recruiter in NCAA history, that being Tom Swayze. He also utilized air travel as the first time a college football team went on the road (Villanova).

HottyToddy.com: I have heard through the years that your father was known as “Tadpole” by his closest friends.

Clair Gurley: When he was in grammar school, a ditch ran around the little red schoolhouse he attended. One spring at play time, he fell into the ditch. One of his playmates, Henry Hobbs, said “here he comes, looking like a tadpole.” From that day forward, he was known as Tad or Tadpole.

HottyToddy.com: Your father left an almost impossible track record to follow.

Clair Gurley: Dad retired in 1972. Following his tenure at Ole Miss, he bought a farm in Panola County where he loved to fish. Six grandchildren and twelve great grandchildren carry on his legacy and love of people and life.

C.M. “Tad” Smith was the architect of Ole Miss sports and its present national success and stature in so many respects. He was definitely the “right person” at the right time and molded Ole Miss into greatness that possibly he did not even envision. When the Tad Pad is eventually destroyed, one era will be gone with the wind, however the foundation that Tad Smith put in place will be producing dividends for generations well into the future.


Steve Vassallo

Steve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. Currently, Steve is a highly successful leader in the real estate business who lives in Oxford with his wife Rosie. You can contact Steve at sovassallo@gmail.com or call him at 985-852-7745.

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