With pudgy features and a receding hairline, Jonathan Smith, 42, looks more like a rowdy Oregon State football fan rather than the Beavers’ made-to-order head coach. He seemingly should be clutching a beer and a hot dog and screaming insults, rather than masterminding a football playbook and taking down giants.
That’s always been the case with Smith — inside the everyman veneer is a serious competitor waiting to go for the opponents’ throat and make them gasp.
After high school in Glendora, CA, Smith arrived at Oregon State as a walk-on quarterback and left as the school’s all-time leading passer.
He said, move aside, all you scholarship QBs and opponents. Hang onto your hats.
As a player, Smith engineered the Beavers’ greatest football success — a 2000 team that went 11-1, including a shocking 41-9 demolition of Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Irish had to be asking: “Aren’t all Rudy look-a-likes supposed to get one series and sit the hell down?”
As he prepares the Beavers (3-1 overall, 1-0 Pac-12) to host the Huskies (2-2, 1-0) at Reser Stadium in Corvallis at 6 p.m. Saturday (Pac-12 Network) in a more compelling match-up than expected, Smith is doing it again.
After taking advantage of his power for creating the unexpected, Smith is faced with reeling in his players following Saturday’s historic 45-27 victory over USC in Los Angeles.
The outcome shocked West Coast football and floored USC’s interim coach, Donte Williams.
“It was hard to stop them,” he said. “Their offensive line was big, fast and physical.
“They out-coached us and out-played us.”
The triumph was the first by Oregon State at USC in 61 years.
The sudden football magic has turned the Willamette Valley giddy and energized. Though the program is in the throes of seven consecutive losing seasons, fans are checking December calendars and scouting possible bowl bids.
Washington, however, won’t underestimate Smith or his team.
The Huskies have insider information on the guy.
They once employed him.
They were once torched for 1,022 cumulative passing yards by him over three high-powered outings.
They followed his genius lead as coach Chris Petersen’s offensive coordinator from 2014 through 2017, more specifically as Jake Browning’s QB tutor when UW made the College Football Playoffs in 2016.
Jimmy Lake was defensive backs coach during that time, a friend of Smith’s then and now.
“Smitty and I are very, very close,” Lake said of his former Montlake colleague. “He knows what I like. and I know what he likes, so it’s definitely a fun competition. I’m expecting he’s going to have an extraordinary plan against us.”
The Huskies haven’t really had an extraordinary offensive plan on their behalf since Smith was summoned by Oregon State to come home in 2018 and pull the Beavers out of their doldrums.
Since Smith accepted the job, UW has struggled to find offensive creativity under OC Bush Hamdan for two seasons before he was fired. Successor John Donovan is in his second season and hardly secure. Neither was welcomed by the fan base.
Things are a little crazy in Corvallis as more benchmarks of Smith’s rebuild become visible. He beat Oregon last year.
A win over the Huskies, who have captured the past nine games in the rivalry, would blow the roofs off grain elevators from Salem to Sweet Home.
Meantime, as USC tries to clean up its mess after jettisoning Clay Helton shortly after the season began, someone suggested the school take a good look at SoCal native Smith, and whether his contract, paying him $2.4 million this year, might be bought out.
The problem is that the wealthy USC fan base likely thinks it needs a dynamic swashbuckler, not some ordinary, soft-spoken guy that is authentic. If so, Smith probably will keep beating them. Maybe he’ll start beating the Huskies, as well.
Former Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Dan Raley’s latest work can be found at Husky Maven at si.com