Art Greathouse, part of the backfield that helped make Tempe McClintock one of the greatest football teams in the state in the mid-1980s, returned to his alma mater on Wednesday.
New coach Corbin Smith, working to return a history that was lost somewhere between Karl Kiefer and the line of coaches that came after him in 1990, asked Greathouse to talk about what made McClintock great.
It started with Kiefer and discipline.
“I mentioned bringing back the discipline,” said Greathouse, who was recruited out of high school by Smith’s dad, Larry Smith, to play football at the University of Arizona. “It was great to see the kids had great eye contact and respect. The kids didn’t have their sleeves rolled up and shirts up to here and all that flashy stuff.
“These are a good group of kids. I’m proud and excited to see what they have to work with.”
It’s going to take a lot of work.
Coaches who came from great programs haven’t been able to return to the McClintock football machine of the 1970s and ’80s that Kiefer churned out. The school’s last state championship came in 1989 when Kiefer was at the end of his McClintock career, before starting up Phoenix Mountain Pointe’s program.
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McClintock went 5-15 the last two years under Spencer Waggoner, who had come from a strong program at Chandler, where he was an assistant.
Matt Lewis was part of three state championships at Scottsdale Saguaro, where he was offensive coordinator. But that didn’t translate into consistent success at McClintock, where he has a losing record in four years, before Waggoner took over.
“We’re out here teaching and trying to build morale, and instill some accountability,” said Smith, who was an offensive coordinator at Gilbert Mesquite two seasons ago. “We want to make sure these guy know they can win.”
This is Smith’s first head coaching job, but he has grown up with football. His dad led Arizona, Missouri and USC to success. Larry Smith died in 2008 at 68.
Smith learned to surround himself with good people.
He talks to Kiefer frequently, always picking his brain.
He welcomed Zach Griffin as his defensive coordinator. Griffin came over from Mountain Pointe, where he was defensive coordinator the past four years, including the Pride’s first unbeaten, state championship season in 2013.
Griffin said he let Mountain Pointe coach Norris Vaughan know in December that he needed a change.
“My dad was talking with Karl Kiefer, and told Coach Kiefer I wasn’t coaching at Mountain Pointe and I was considered taking a year off,” Griffin said. “Coach Kiefer said, ‘No, we can’t have that, Zach.’ “
Smith soon got in touch with Griffin to be his DC.
Smith brought in former UA linebacker Kevin Singleton, who was feeling the itch to coach again after 20 years away from the game. Singleton was recruited by Larry Smith to play at UA. In 1989, as a senior, he was diagnosed with leukemia and didn’t play that season.
He received a bone marrow transplant from his twin brother, Chris, who went on to play in the NFL for the New England Patriots.
Kevin Singleton’s playing career ended in 1990, when he attempted a comeback.
“I didn’t know Corbin too much because he was only a kid at the time,” Singleton said about his Tucson days. “But seeing him out here, he is so much like his dad. Some of his mannerisms, characteristics. His demeanor.
“After the first meeting, I definitely felt a connection.”
Smith also brought in former Phoenix Brophy Prep and UA receiver B.J. Dennard to join his staff. Dennard played at UA from 2004-08.
Dennard is impressed with how Smith is getting the players’ attention. Dennard played for the same high school coach that Corbin Smith played for, but in different states. Dennard played at Brophy for Jeff Kearin, who coached Smith in California.
“He’s a complete coach,” Dennard said of Smith. “His character, his ability to connect to the players, his game knowledge, his energy. He’s a coach the guys are going to label him as a ‘player’s coach.’ He’s a player’s coach and a coach’s coach.”
Chris Colter, the brother of one of the greatest players in McClintock history, Cleveland Colter Jr., is part of the staff. His son, Cordell, a sophomore, is the quarterback.
Alay’jon Tamplin, who will be a junior linebacker next season, said McClintock history is discussed.
“We want to bring tradition back,” Tamplin said. “We’ve got guys out here giving a hard effort. They’ve come out here every spring. Whether we win or lose, they give it 100 percent.”
This spring, it’s all about technique, being in the right position, buying in.
Smith is not setting the bar low.
“We set the expectations high,” Smith said. “It doesn’t matter to me how many games they’ve won in the last two, three, four, five, six years. What matters to me is the history of this school.
“We brought in Art Greathouse today to talk. He talked about playing for Coach Kiefer and being disciplined and what that meant. And that’s what the expectations are. We do it our own way. And the kids know we care about them. But we can’t go with baby steps in with the expectations that we have.”
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