By the time East Carolina travels to West Virginia, Orlando, Houston, Hartford and Memphis this season, Terrell Smith will have been there and done that. One of the responsibilities of the Pirates’ director of football operations is serving as the advance scout for ECU’s road games.
“The best way to describe what I do is I’m kind of the behind-the-scenes guy,” Smith said. “I’m like the producer. I handle everything from the practice schedules, travel, all the way down to if a light goes out in a meeting room or if a board needs to be replaced or if we need to order furniture, buses, hotels, the day-to-day logistics that help a football team run. I handle all those things.”
Thankfully, perhaps, Smith doesn’t have direct responsibility for checking class attendance of the players.
“Academics actually handles that, which is a good thing for us,” Smith said. “I know at some schools, the person in my position is in charge of that and has to coordinate that, but our academic staff does a really good job. They report to me and give me an update as well as sending out daily reminders to our coaches of people that have academic infractions.”
When ECU goes to play West Virginia on Sept. 9, the Pirates will be making a trip that Smith has been planning for months.
“A lot of people, including our coaches, definitely our student-athletes, they don’t realize how much goes into travel,” Smith said. “I actually started looking at hotels last November and December. The months of January and February, I flew around the country looking at hotels. I visited the hotel we’re staying at in West Virginia back in February and secured that contract back in February. What goes into it, I have to find a hotel, we have to get a chartered flight, which I work with J.J. McLamb (Associate Athletic Director for Internal Operations) on that. We also have to get transportation once we’re there and then, food. I’m in charge of getting all those things.
“The first thing I do is I look at the schedule and see where our away games are and I start contacting hotels in that area. Once I contact the hotels, the ones that are interested in hosting us, I fly out and I do a site visit. I go and look at each hotel. Usually, it’s between five to eight in each city. I do it over a two-day period most of the time. I sit down and I meet with the event coordinator and we go over menus. I get my handbook that I created and I say, ‘These are the potential schedules,’ because usually the times of the games aren’t out in January or February.
“So I give them a bunch of scenarios, a 12 o’clock game or a 2:30 game or a seven o’clock game or a nine o’clock game. I go through all these schedules. Also, I give them a schedule on that Friday on our arrival for the day before the game. Usually we try to get into that city between 4:45 and 5:45, that little hour window, so I give them a schedule based on that. I’ve got to make sure I have enough rooms. I usually get about 100 to 120 rooms at each hotel because we have to take the players, coaches, administrators, doctors, cheerleaders, our radio people, our equipment people. There’s so many people that’s involved at a game. I have to make sure that everyone has a seat on the plane and everyone has a place to sleep the night before.”
Smith, known to many as Smitty, said there is a degree of bargaining in the hotel selection process.
“Oh, yes,” Smith said. “If I wasn’t bargaining, I wouldn’t be doing my job. I like for East Carolina, our players and coaches, and the people that travel with us to stay in really, really nice places but at the same time we try to be fiscally responsible and not blow the budget on hotel rooms. It’s crazy what people will do if you just ask. One hotel might come in and say, ‘Hey, I can give you a room rate of $120 and give you the suites at $99.’ Somebody else will come in and say, ‘I can do better. I can give you the rooms for $99 and give you three free suites.’ There are different things that hotels will do just to get your business.”
The ECU travel party gets a package of food before boarding the plane after an away game. Alex Folken is in charge of that particular detail for the Pirates. Folken may arrange the snacks through a third party or contract directly with a food source.
“He has a budget that we give him each year on how much he can spend on postgame snacks,” Smith said.
Smith’s Duke experience
Smith played at Forest Hills High School in Marshville.
“I was born and raised in Monroe, North Carolina,” Smith said.
His recruiting process took a late turn toward Duke.
“I didn’t know much about college football at all,” Smith said. “Everyone in my family grew up playing football and a lot of them played at Forest Hills. I had a few family members that were fortunate enough to get scholarships and go to college. When I started playing football, I played it because everyone in my family played it. It wasn’t something where I said, ‘Oh, I’m going to go play college football’ or ‘I’m going to go to the NFL.’ I never thought that. But when I got to high school, people kept saying, ‘You’re pretty good.’ Colleges started calling me. I actually thought I was going to go to Wofford because I wanted to go to college to be a doctor.
“I was thinking initially I was going to go to Wofford. That was my top choice. I wasn’t really highly recruited because I ran the triple option. I played quarterback and we ran the triple option. But, at heart, I was a defensive player. Duke came along and they were really the only school that really recruited me as a defensive player. Everyone else said they were going to put me on offense. It could have been that they thought that’s what I wanted to hear. At Forest Hills, we were always known for having really good defense. . . . I was always a defensive guy, mentally. When Duke came along and they said, ‘We’re going to recruit you as a defensive player, I got really excited.
“Finally, in February, right before signing day, they called and offered me a scholarship. It was late. That’s back when most people didn’t get an offer and people didn’t commit until December or January of their senior year. Now, guys are starting to commit in the 10th grade. That’s how my recruiting process went with Duke.
“A funny story about that is Bob Trott was a guy who recruited me and now he’s defensive coordinator at JMU, which is our first game of the season (Sept. 2, 6 p.m., Greenville). We still have a really, really close relationship because he really believed in me and he felt in his heart that I could play at the next level. I ended up being a good player for him.”
Smith was 5 feet, 10 inches coming out of high school and he weighed 163 pounds.
“I was playing corner,” Smith said. “After my freshman year, they moved me to safety. When I graduated, I was 5-10, 173 pounds. I never weighed more than 175 pounds playing safety in the ACC.”
Carl Franks was coach of the Blue Devils when Smith signed. Franks was dismissed during Smith’s senior season and defensive coordinator Ted Roof coached the team the remainder of the season.
ECU coach Scottie Montgomery had finished playing for Duke when Smith accumulated 321 career tackles, three interceptions and earned second team All-ACC honors in 2003. Smith was co-MVP of the Blue Devils as a senior. Duke closed the season with a 30-22 win at North Carolina.
“I call him Coach Montgomery at work,” Smith said. “But I grew up knowing him as Scottie because at Forest Hills, Forest Hills and Burns faced each other in the playoffs. Even though he was older than me, I was playing at the middle school and would come to the high school games. When he was in the 10th grade, I was in the sixth grade, we had a really, really big game over at the high school. It was a big playoff game. Everybody knew that game between Forest Hills and Burns, the winner of that was most likely going to win the state title.”
Montgomery’s Burns team went on to win the 3-A state title 21-14 over Eastern Randolph in 1994 after getting past Forest Hills.
“It was huge,” Smith said. “I mean that game was slam-packed. I went to that game. Coach Montgomery was in the 10th grade and I saw him play. After that, I would see him during track and AAU and that type thing.
“He went to Duke and when I was getting recruited by Duke, I would hang out with him during my recruiting process. On my official visit, it was my senior year and he was in town. He had left to go work out [for the NFL], but he was in town and Ronnie Hamilton was his best friend. We all got together and hung out on my official visit. ,
“Then after that, he graduated and I came in my freshman year, and he was playing for the [Denver] Broncos. He had an apartment in Durham. In the offseason, he would stay in Durham and we would go hang out at his place. All the upperclassmen still hung out with him because they knew him and I would go over there with them. That’s how our relationship started. It was really due to the recruiting process. I knew him when he was in high school, but all through the recruiting process as well.”
Blue Devil highlights
Several things came to mind for Smith when he was asked about the highlights of his college career.
“I’ve really got two or probably three,” Smith said. “Some people might say, my senior year we beat Carolina to win the [Victory] bell. It was like 11 or 12 years had went by before Duke won it.”
The Blue Devils had not beaten their archrivals since 1989 when a Steve Spurrier-coached Duke team prevailed 41-0 in Chapel Hill.
“But that’s not the thing I remember most,” Smith said. “The thing I remember most from playing at Duke was my senior year when we played at Tennessee (Nov. 1, 2003).”
Attendance was 104,772 at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville. The score was tied at 6 at the half. The Volunteers scored a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter and won, 23-6.
Duke had a 21-18 lead in first downs and possession time was 34:05 to 25:55 in favor of the Blue Devils. Duke outrushed their SEC hosts, 180-147.
“We ended up losing that game but everyone in the stadium knew we were a better team,” Smith said. “We came out there and we played with some heart that game. We ended up losing but some people really sat up and took notice. I think that was really the turning point in Duke football.
“Coach Cut (David Cutcliffe) came in a few years later and really, really changed that thing. People really started taking notice that Duke can play. They’re just not going to be a door mat. After that game, a lot of stuff started changing at Duke. We got a plan together. It was a strategic plan for Duke football. It ended up being a strategic plan for Duke athletics. We see that stuff coming to fruition, even today with a [renovated] stadium and all that stuff but that started back after that Tennessee game that season. It was like we really needed to have a change.
“That was one of the biggest highlights for me because when I graduated, I came back as a graduate assistant for about a year-and-a-half. Then I became director of player development. During that time, I had some input on that strategic plan. That was really good for me.
“One thing that I do remember was playing Western Carolina and I had a big hit that game.”
Smith worked briefly at UNC in 2015 as assistant director of player personnel.
“Me and Coach [Larry] Fedora (UNC coach) have a lot of mutual friends because we worked at Oklahoma State with Coach [Mike] Gundy,” Smith said. “I was up in Massachusetts. I was assistant director of admissions for a college, MCLA, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and while I was up there, they had a job that came open. Somebody reached out to me and asked if I would be interested. It was really good timing so I said, ‘Yeah.'”
Smith subsequently returned to his alma mater.
“Coach Cut really wanted me back at Duke,” Smith said. “It’s a real good family atmosphere over there. When Coach Cut first came to Duke, he had a lot of guys from Ole Miss and Tennessee that he had known. He only kept like three or four people when he came in and he let the rest of the staff go. I’ll never forget him giving me an opportunity to stay. I got to meet a lot of people. A lot of those guys that he brought in that I didn’t know, we’re still good friends to this day. Like Derek Jones (Duke cornerbacks coach), I hung out with him two days ago. I talk to Kent McLeod (Duke director of player personnel), like every day.”
Two Duke degrees
Smith’s first degree at Duke gave him some momentum for his second degree from the prestigious academic institution.
“I got an undergraduate degree in political science, marketing management, and a I got a masters in humanities,” Smith said. “Humanities was just something I was interested in. The reason why is because at Duke the humanities program is very broad so it allowed me to take the research I had started doing as an undergrad and kind of finish it. It let me piece together my own masters program so I took a little stuff from political science, economics, history and athletics and molded it together to make my humanities curriculum.
“You could do one dissertation or three projects, and I did three projects — one was a paper that was like 20 pages and it came from research I had started as an undergrad. I had sent out a survey to all the elementary schools in the state of North Carolina about their lunch menus. When I got that stuff back my senior year, I took that data and wrote a paper in grad school.
“The second paper I wrote was a follow up about obesity in elementary schools and the importance of athletics and making sure that kids stay active and also eat right.”
Insight on Coach Mo
Smith has probably known Coach Montgomery longer than anyone at ECU.
“One thing I can say about him that most people don’t know is that it’s funny because we have a really good work relationship,” Smith said. “A lot of people will come in and be like, ‘I know you and Coach Montgomery are really close,’ because we’re from the same area, we’ve known each other since I was in middle school. We both went to Duke. We worked at Duke together.
“Me and him are a lot alike. We both like two wheels. He likes dirt bikes. I ride motorcycles. We both like cars. Those are things we have in common.
“He’s a perfectionist. He likes things done right. Whenever his name is on something, he wants it done right. I’m the same way. Right now, he has his thumb print all over ECU football and so do I so we both want to be successful in that.
“At the end of the day, I think the biggest thing I could say about him is that he is really, really passionate about what he is doing here at East Carolina. I’m positive that that’s going to reflect on the field this year. We’ve done a lot of changes. We’re doing it his way. He’s done a great job of putting his message out there to our coaches, to our players and to the support staff, meaning equipment, our video people. They all know that we have high expectations.”
After being named coach at ECU, Montgomery remained with the Duke program for a 44-41 overtime win over Indiana in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
“I put that Pinstripe Bowl No. 1 or 2 in Duke football history in the last 20 years,” Smith said. I would say either the win in the Pinstripe Bowl, because Duke hadn’t won a bowl game in a long time (since 1961). Probably the other one that you could argue about is Duke beating Notre Dame (38-35, Sept. 24, 2016), even though Notre Dame had a down year. The pundits would say that Notre Dame should never lose to Duke. That was a big win for the program.
“I did stay through the Pinstripe Bowl after Coach Montgomery was hired as the head coach. I was his first hire so during that time that week during preparations I was driving back and forth every day, taking care of matters on campus here. It was crazy because like the first month I was basically the head coach at East Carolina.”
Smith developed confidence in Thomas Sirk when both were at Duke. Sirk has joined the Pirates as a graduate transfer and is competing for the starting quarterback job with Gardner Minshew.
“Thomas Sirk is a competitor,” Smith said. “I’m glad he decided to come here. He had a lot of options of places he could have gone and played his final season. I like him because he’s a competitor, but he’s also a team player. Whether he’s the starting quarterback or he’s the back-up, he’s going to push the guy that’s in front of him. He’s going to be a team player.
“He’s a winner. I go back to when we were at Duke. We went to four overtimes with Virginia Tech. I remember on the sideline when they said they were going to do a rollout play with Sirk. They told him to keep the ball and I knew right there we were going to score because I knew he wasn’t going to be denied. He ended up running through three or four defenders and scoring. That’s just the type of person he is. He’s a competitor. That’s all you can really ask for.”
Sirk threw a 25-yard scoring pass to Erich Schneider in the fourth overtime and then carried the two-point conversion to lead Duke to a 45-43 win over the Hokies in Blacksburg on Oct. 24, 2015.