University Sports

Walling: Carleton Ravens coach Smart is a basketball genius

Alex J. Walling
3/15/2013 12:52:23 PM
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I've never called anyone a genius in a sports column in my life and I've been in the media business for almost 50 years (I started very young).

That changes with this column. And it shouldn't come as a surprise.

Dave Smart, the eccentric coach of the Carleton Ravens is a genius when it comes to coaching Canadian college basketball. How does one explain his near total dominance over the last 11 years?

How does one look at his winning percentage, not over one year, but over the last 11 years and figures out that this guy wins 90 - that right over 90 per cent - of his games, and that includes national titles?

How does one man accumulate nine national titles in an 11 year span?

How does any team in today's competitive basketball era and in national competition win a final championship game by a 50-point margin; more than double the amount than any other championship?

For the record, both Acadia (65) and Windsor (71) won national titles by a whopping margin of 24 points.  That was a landslide then and that would be a landslide today, so what does one call the 92-42 victory by Carleton over the Thunder Bay Thunderwolves? A demolishment, total wipe out, or should I get a new word from the dictionary?

Teams in national finals are not supposed to lose by 50 points. No matter how long Smart coaches, last Sunday's total denomination by the Ravens may be his crowning achievement by any CIS basketball team.
Sunday's championship effort was a perfect storm of circumstances, enabling the Carleton juggernaut to execute at maximum efficiency.

It also sent the Smart credo, "win every possession," to an all-time level; certainly to a national saying or slogan.

I've seen many coaches since 1957 when I started following sports as a nine-year old.

The first great coach I saw on my one channel TV in Quebec City was Toe Blake of the five straight Montreal Canadians Stanley Cup champions (1956-60).   Mind you, he had the horses with Maurice (Rocket) Richard, Jean Beliveau, Doug Harvey, Dickie Moore, Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffrion and more.  By the way, all those names are hanging up at the Bell Centre rafters in Montreal.

In basketball, we've seen great coaching led by Phil Jackson and his many titles but again he had Michael Jordan. Or how about Al Arbour with four Stanley Cups with the Islanders?

The greatest coach I've seen is Vince Lombardi.  What makes him different than all the others is he built his team from total mediocrity. When Lombardi took over the Green Bay Packers they had a terrible losing season (0-12) and he orchestrated a key move early with the Packers when he picked Bart Starr to be his starting quarterback.

Lombardi only lost one playoff game in his career - the first one; the NFL playoff game to NormVanBrocklin and the Philadelphia Eagles.  It also marked the last time the Eagles won the championship.

Dave Smart is a mad man. Those are his words, not mine, which he told me in Halifax three years ago.

"If you saw me at practice you'd think I was a mad-man" Smart said. "I yell, scream, and bellow. In other words, do everything I can to get my point across."

And he does.

 A few doors down from Smart's office is newly minted football coach, Steve Sumarah.  The Ravens return to football this fall.

"He is a perfectionist. I have never met a college coach that pays so much attention to the tiniest most microscopic detail," Sumarah told "He is the most focus person I know.  A lot of us can learn from watching Dave Smart."

In fact, Sumarah plans to use the "win every possession" philosophy with football this fall.

"Now, football is a bit different. You could win the majority of possessions game but blow two possessions and that results in two majors," the Ravens football coach told "Also, most of the time in basketball you usually start under the basket.  In football, field possession is all over the place.  But for many circumstances, the philosophy makes sense."

Brian Heaney is a former NBA player who still holds the CIS single points in a game record of 74 and has been in six national finals, winning three of them with the Saint Mary Huskies in 1973, 78 and 79.

"Dave Smart is just totally amazing," says Heaney. "He foresees every possibility, on offense and defense and gets his team ready as ready for the opponents as good as I ever seen..  His players have bought in to his style, his philosophy and why not. 9 titles in11 years is something that may not be done again And don't be surprised if that streak continues after all he has the two time player of  year in Phil Scrubb and his brother Tom for two more years."

I've seen successful coaches at the university level but nothing like Smart. The only coach that can give Smart a run for his money, and may catch up to him in so far as titles are concerned, is Glen Constantine; the football coach for the Laval Rouge et Or who has six Vanier Cups to his credit.  He is 6-1 in Vanier Cup games.

What I don't understand is that one seems to be able to even come close to Smart. No one seems to get the players he's been able to get and no one seems to be able to beat him in the CIS playdowns.

A 9-1 record and nine titles in 11 years; that a truly remarkable run and its liable to continue.

For I'm Alex J. Walling

Alex J. can be reached via email at:

Ravens bench (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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