1973 - 75 Mustangs
(Authentic Reproduction)

There was some pushing and tugging between factions of the program’s supporters and players as some wanted defensive coordinator Bum Phillips to take over as head coach while others believed that former coordinator Dave Smith better fit the “SMU image.” On December 15, 1972, Joel Davis “Dave” Smith, Jr. who had served as an assistant and offensive coordinator at SMU from 1963 through ’70 was introduced as the new head coach. He had filled 1971 as the head coach at Ferris State and then offensive coordinator for Winnipeg of the CFL before becoming Oklahoma State’s head coach for 1972, but his work with Chuck Hixson was still fresh in the minds of many boosters. Smith had been a quarterback for Lockhart (Texas) High School and at Texas A&M before serving on the A&M staff and then becoming a highly respected high school coach. Successful at a number of stops, he took Nederland High School to the Texas State Championship Game in 1961, coached at Sherman High School, in ’62 and then joined the SMU staff with play calling responsibilities. Well entrenched in Texas, he recruited quickly and well at Oklahoma State, taking them to a 6-5 mark which included a second place finish in the Big Eight. He was named the Mustangs head coach and again recruited very aggressively. Smith then mystified the fans with his choice of new uniforms that featured an “Ohio State look”; red jerseys, silver pants, and silver helmets with a one inch red center stripe, royal blue flanking stripes, and red player identification numerals on the rear of the shell. As a fan of the Ohio State uniforms, Smith saw the introduction of his new uniform as a natural but the emphasis on silver seemed to be an attempt to mimic the Dallas Cowboys appearance, which offended traditionalists. Smith became the athletic director on January 1, 1973 and with the power of his new position, immediately alienated many of the students and faculty by bringing in academically sub-standard students and then moving an entire dormitory of residents to other housing and overcrowded cafeterias so that the football players and other athletes could have their own dorm and dining area. Unfortunately, Smith’s commitment to the Wishbone Offense did not match the personnel he had on hand and the talents of 6’6” tight end Oscar Roan [ see HELMET HUT  http://helmethut.com/Browns/Roan.html ] and receiver Kenny Harrison were wasted. There was no true Wishbone quarterback on hand though freshman Ricky Wesson did well once starter Keith Bobo went down with a shoulder separation. With three weak opponents to open the season, SMU got off to a quick start with Alvin Maxson and Wayne Morris operating as the halfbacks, and fullback David Bostick who finished the year with 615 yards rushing, taking on more work. However, even with Maxson as an All SWC performer with 717 rush yards and a career total of 2734 that he took to the pros for five seasons, primarily with the Saints, the offense sputtered at critical times. The defense, with a sluggish and overweight Louie Kelcher at the forefront was inconsistent, and special teams, especially in game four against Missouri, were disappointing. It was after the Missouri loss that the staff made the decision to pay players for special teams tackles and blocks, and this augmented illegal payments already being given in a complimentary game ticket buy-back program the coaches had established. Later, the monetary awards system was amplified to include tackles made on defense and contributing offensive plays. Relative to the fast start, the season finished poorly at 6-4-1 and attendance alarmingly dropped to below 20,000 per game.  

At the conclusion of the ’73 season, it was revealed that Smith had arranged for rent free housing, paid players, and provided money for their game tickets, all prohibited by the NCAA. The NCAA’s punitive action against Oklahoma State’s football program also came as a result of the actions of Smith and his staff, but this was not evident until he had begun his tenure at SMU so faculty, administrators, and fans were quite upset. SMU President Paul Hardin self-reported the recently discovered violations of his football staff to the Southwest Conference which placed Smith and assistant coach Pug Gabrel on one year of probation, and proposed a one year bowl ban. Unfortunately, the NCAA doubled up on the SWC approved penalties. Smith resigned as athletic director and was much less obvious in public as the head football coach. In a similar tragedy like the deaths of players Mike Kelsey and Tom White, SMU had another player die before the start of the 1974 season.  Contracting meningiococcal meningitis, freshman tight end Dwain Staten was hospitalized four days prior to the opening game, the team was quarantined with some players inoculated, and both morale and preparation slumped as Staten died the morning of the first game. The team did however defeat North Texas State and former SMU coach Hayden Fry 7-6 but the squad was out of synch. The season was another up-and-down, 6-4-1 affair. Wishbone quarterback Wesson rushed for 885 yards and outdistanced his total passing yardage while fullback Bostick ran for 862, and Morris 744. Arthur Whittington showed great promise as a runner and return man and included a 100 yard kickoff run back versus Arkansas. Roan made the All SWC team and played for the Browns through the ’78 season before eventually embarking on a path to his own ministry  [ http://helmethut.com/Browns/Roan.html ].

Kelcher, moved to nose guard, made an incredible twenty-four tackles against Texas A&M and was another All Conference performer. He played productively for the Chargers from ’75 through 1983 and another year with the Forty Niners. Tackle Henry Sheppard and guard Guy Thomas also earned All SWC honors. Smith remained at odds with many on campus, including department secretaries, and was criticized for bringing further probation on the Mustangs. Yet he received a contract extension prior to the 1975 season. His Wishbone had never fully blossomed but he stayed with it despite still lacking many of the personnel components to make the offense work consistently well, and commentary from critics that there were but a limited number of small red horseshoe helmet award stickers being earned. Wesson was hobbled with a thigh injury suffered in the opener and there were twenty-nine fumbles lost to opponents. Bostick was still a factor but Morris, who gained a fabulous 202 yards against Texas and set a school record with 3044 career yards, was the key and he spent a solid eight seasons with the Cardinals and one with the Chargers. Henry Sheppard was the only Pony All Conference performer and played at guard and tackle for the Browns from ’76 through 1981. The defense was porous, giving up 301 points and not dependable. Tam Hollingshead, a safety from that group, became a well respected high school and assistant college coach before returning to SMU as one of current coach June Jones’ valued staff members while slight, 175 pound receiver Freeman Johns, after two years with the Rams, became a conference official who continued after the formation of the Big 12. Knowledgeable supporters looked at the talent that was in the program during Smith’s time there, players like Morris, Wesson, Whittington, and Kelcher, and saw many misused and out-of-position athletes like Roan and Harrison. The conclusion was that Smith had not recruited well, lacked depth, and had in fact, won with Fry’s recruited players. Criticism that the Wishbone offense that the head coach refused to alter was not suited to his material, and too many players were miscast, was a constant from Smith's first season. The 4-7 finish and 15-15-1 record overall, the ongoing rancor created by the coach and his staff, and the embarrassment and scholarship limitations of probation all warranted Smith’s firing and on December 1, he was released from his contract. Smith remained in football, first coaching with Toronto of the CFL before again making the rounds in Texas high school football circles. He eventually became an administrator and completed his career teaching physical education to children with disabilities.



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