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January 29, 2014

Smith's return bridges divide between past and present

Terry Smith saw what was happening.

How could he not?

Splashed across every newspaper and Web site in the country, Jerry Sandusky's sexual transgressions against children - and the subsequent fallout at Penn State - was impossible to ignore for the former Nittany Lion.

"Yeah it was hard. It was everywhere. People that hate Penn State had a lot of things to say no matter where you go, and the people that love Penn State were real torn," Smith said. "Obviously, what happened shouldn't have happened. But there was the Penn State nation that was going to support Penn State regardless. And then there was the Penn State nation that said, 'Hey, everything has to get flipped upside down.'

"Everyone has their own opinion, so everyone can continue to have their own opinion. What everyone needs to do though is, as we move forward, we still need to become one Penn State nation."

At the time, Smith was head coach at Gateway High School outside of Pittsburgh, in the midst of racking up a career 101-30 record while securing the highest winning percentage in the school's history. Sending the Gators to the WPIAL playoffs in each of his 11 seasons at the helm, Smith helped produce more than 70 D1 scholarship football players, a host of national rankings, seven conference championships and four appearances in Class AAAA title games.

Taking a position in Philadelphia last January as a wide receivers coach at Temple, Smith got farther from Penn State's epicenter of controversy as the effects have continued to linger through the past two years.

All the while, Smith said, he kept tabs while not allowing the outside noise to effect his perspective.

"I had my own career. You saw some of the news clippings and things, but I did not read the Freeh Report," Smith said. "You just know what people say and then what reporters write. I've been around long enough that if I don't know the facts, I'm not going to let anyone distort my viewpoint on it."

Returning to campus in an official capacity since his playing days under Joe Paterno with the Nittany Lions until his graduation in 1991, Smith has joined James Franklin's new staff at Penn State as a cornerbacks coach.

With the new position, Smith brings his credentials not only as a coach, but also as a four-year Penn State letterwinner, having compiled 108 career receptions for 1,825 yards and 15 touchdowns as the diminutive but speedy wideout that flashed throughout Beaver Stadium. In fact, following the complete exodus of Paterno's former staff through the past two years, Smith now represents the only former Nittany Lion player presently in an assistant coaching position - a role Smith has identified as advantageous.

"I know history. I don't have to go read a book to study the history and learn the history. I know the history of the program. I know where we came from and where we need to go as a program. I played in this big, beautiful stadium. I graced the locker room here," he said. "Those are advantages, especially in recruiting, I can give a recruit a real perspective of what it is to be a Penn State football player, what it is to be a Penn State alumni, what the Penn State nation really is, what it is to be a part of an alumni base that is so cohesive and so together. My life is Penn State and all the success that has come to me is because of Penn State."

The catch being, of course, the definition of "cohesive."

Certainly, divides continue to exist in and around the Penn State community and football program, but Smith outlined a vision that is at once committed to making strides toward the future while simultaneously embracing the Penn State of the past.

"The most important thing is that we all move forward. We all mend all wounds and move forward for the good of Penn State nation," Smith said. "I think that's what Coach Franklin's plan is. I think that's what he wants to accomplish. He is embracing the Penn State of the past and I think the alumni base is excited about that opportunity.

"Obviously what has happened here with all the turmoil is very sad and very unfortunate. My heart and prayers go out to all the young people that were affected, all the people in general that were affected by that. At this time, it's time for us to move forward though and mend those wounds and get Penn State back to being one of the top five programs in the nation."

Can it happen?

According to Smith, in many ways, it already is happening.

Following the departure of former head coach Bill O'Brien to the NFL's Houston Texans, the solid foundation already in place and, maybe most important, the passage of time, Smith said that though the storm still exists, transitioning is now possible.

"I do see that happening. A lot of times when the turmoil first happens, Coach O'Brien had the toughest job because he had to come right into the storm," Smith said. "Coach Franklin has a tough job because the storm is still there, but now we can transition as we move forward and start to have the sanctions removed from the program and build the program as it should be built.

"You can see the light at the end of the road now. Four years ago, you couldn't see it. You were feeling like there was a death penalty imposed on the program, so now we can start to see the light. We're optimistic about the opportunity to build this thing back to where it was."




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