One of Boise’s best birthdays ever

It’s the day we’ve been waiting for. Would Lyle Smith make it to 100? The answer is an emphatic “yes.” It’s the day we’ve been waiting for. Would Lyle Smith make it to 100? The answer is an emphatic “yes.” Today is Smith’s 100th birthday, and near and far we celebrate one of the most important sports figures in the state of Idaho’s history. Smith first set foot on the Boise Junior College campus as football coach 69 years ago and promptly posted an undefeated season. He built Boise Junior College into a powerhouse in the late 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s, is considered the man who inspired the Boise State program to grow into what it is today. His career record at BJC was 156-25-5, with five undefeated seasons, a 37-game winning streak, 51 shutouts, and the school’s original national championship—in the JC ranks in 1958. Lyle Smith is the “father of Bronco football,” and the current team will honor him following practice this morning.

One of the coolest things about the telecast of Boise State’s first Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day in 2007 was that Fox Sports had a camera occasionally trained on Lyle’s suite at University of Phoenix Stadium, getting his reaction to the incredible things happening on the field that night. Those who were aware of Lyle’s legacy in Boise were wondering what he was thinking as he watched his one-time JC program take down mighty Oklahoma on national TV in a BCS bowl. Smith has said many times he never could have imagined where the Bronco program is today. Well, it would have never happened this way had he not set the table.

Smith’s memory of his former players is amazing to this day. When they played, what they did well, and where they ended up. He was an old-school, hard-nosed coach, but a players’ coach at the same time. Talent gravitated to him. For example, the 1958 JC national championship team included eight players from Hawaii. Dave Wilcox was probably the best BJC Bronco ever, starring for Lyle before he went on to Oregon—and ultimately into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after his career with the San Francisco 49ers. The affection for Smith went both ways. Every Boise State football coach, from Tony Knap all the way to Bryan Harsin, has paid homage to Smith every chance he got.

Little-known facts about Lyle Smith: he played football and basketball for both Idaho and Idaho State (then the “University of Idaho-Southern Branch”) in the 1930’s. He served in World War II, interrupting his budding coaching career. After returning to the U of I to get his master’s degree in 1946, he decided to take the Boise Junior College coaching job in 1947. The only break in his 21-year run as head coach came in 1950-51, when he returned to active duty during the Korean War. Smith also coached baseball at Boise State into the early 1970’s.

After retiring as coach following the 1967 season, Smith became Boise State’s first athletic director as a four-year school. In the 13-year tenure that followed, Lyle oversaw the building of the current Bronco Stadium in 1969-70. He accepted invitation to the Big Sky in 1970 and transitioned the Broncos from the NAIA to the NCAA. He spearheaded the first expansion of Bronco Stadium with the upper deck addition in 1975. He took the football program from Division II to Division I-AA in 1978, making Boise State a Division I school in all sports. Two years later, the Broncos won the I-AA national championship. And he finalized plans and broke ground on the construction of the BSU Pavilion (now Taco Bell Arena), completed the year after he retired. And to this day, he is as sharp as a tack and remembers it all.

Shea McClellin was on a recruiting trip of sorts in Seattle earlier this week. The former Boise State star was being hosted by the Seahawks as they look at candidates to replace outside linebacker Bruce Irvin, who left to sign with Oakland. But now it appears McClellin will end up on the other side of the country. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that New England has signed him to a three-year deal. Many thought McClellin was headed to the Patriots back in the 2012 NFL Draft before Chicago scooped him up with the 19th overall pick.

The Mountain West could really use a win by Fresno State this evening in the NCAA Tournament. Good luck with that. The Bulldogs are the conference’s only hope, but they’re saddled with a No. 14 seed and have to face Utah. The Utes are favored by nine points. The Mountain West did get a victory in the CBI last night, as Nevada rallied from a 13-point second half deficit to down Montana, 79-75. The Wolf Pack didn’t lead in the game until 2½ minutes remained. And Idaho’s season came to an end in the CBI with a 68-63 loss at Seattle University. The Vandals finish their resurgent season at 21-13.

The Idaho Stampede have had yet another player summoned to the NBA. This time it’s Jared Cunningham, who just joined the team three games ago. The Milwaukee Bucks have signed Cunningham to a 10-day contract after he put up averages of 17.3 points and 4.7 assists in his brief stay in Boise. The former Oregon State standout began the season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he appeared in 40 games before being traded to Orlando. Cunningham was waived by the Magic a month ago. The Stampede will thus be without him when they host the L.A. D-Fenders tonight in CenturyLink Arena.

The Arnold Palmer Invitational tees off today at Bay Hill in Orlando. Only the top 70 players from the previous season’s money list are guaranteed invitations, and former Boise State star Troy Merritt is invited. Merritt is out to prove his tie for 11th at the Northern Trust Open four weeks ago isn’t an aberration. Other than that, he’s missed the cut in five of his last six starts.

Campus cruise: Boise State’s Geordan Martinez and Chris Castillo begin competition today at the NCAA Wrestling Championships at Madison Square Garden in New York. Martinez is seeded 12th at 149 pounds, while Castillo is unseeded at 157. The Bronco 800-meter relay team finished 22nd yesterday at the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships. And the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (that’s a mouthful) has announced its updated standings for the Program of the Year Award, and the Boise State men’s track and field and cross country team entered the standings as the No. 17 team in the country. The Broncos are the only Mountain West program and one of just four mid-majors to make the top 20 on the men’s side.

This Day In Sports…March 17, 1983:

Boise State hosts rounds one and two of the NCAA Tournament for the first time. The field back then was only 52 teams, so there were just two first-day games in the Pavilion instead of four. Washington State beat Big Sky champion Weber State, and Utah upset Illinois in the first round. Two days later, the Utes would shock UCLA, 67-61, after Virginia and College Basketball Player of the Year Ralph Sampson edged Wazzu, 54-49.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)