One thing I have learned is that good friends have other good friends. This is a series of stories about “friends of my friends”. The post below is the story for July 16, 2015.
My goal in 2015 is to learn or get re-acquainted with 365 people and doing a daily post on the “the friend of a friend” is helping me get closer to my goal.
As we get older we seem to have to deal with friends who pass away. That was a reality for me on Tuesday morning as I learned about the passing of former Columbus State University (GA) Athletic Director Herbert Greene passing away at the age of 71. Herbert apparently had a heart attack on Monday evening in Columbus, Georgia and never recovered.
Columbus State University like UNC Pembroke is a member of the Peach Belt Conference. During my fifteen years as UNCP Director of Athletics I got to know Herbert well. Herbert was one of the founding members of the Peach Belt Conference.
Herbert along with being the Athletic Director spent 25 seasons as the men’s basketball coach at CSU, compiling a 481-240 record. He won four regular-season Peach Belt Conference titles and six PBC tournament titles. Herbert had 16 seasons with at least 19 wins. His teams made nine NCAA tournament appearances and two Sweet 16 appearances. As an Athletic Director Herbert saw CSU win 48 PBC conference titles and five NCAA titles in various sports.
Just last season, Columbus State named the court at the Lumpkin Center in Herbert Greene’s honor. It was a facility he was very proud of and worked hard to make sure was built first class.
Herbert born in Eufaula, Alabama and that is where he starred as a high school basketball player. He went on to play college basketball at Auburn. He later would become an assistant coach at Auburn under his friend Sonny Smith. Herbert recruited Charles Barkley to play at Auburn.
He loved talking about his family. He had three children by his first marriage, Todd, Jennifer, and Melissa. A second marriage, to Jan, brought him two more daughters, Olivia and Maria. His eyes would light up talking about them. His family meant more to him than any basketball game ever did.
Herbert with his wife Jan-January 2015
When Herbert Greene left Auburn to come to Columbus State I had always heard the plan was for him to return to Auburn one day to be their head coach. That plan didn’t work out because Herbert fell in love with Columbus and never left. When Herbert got diagnosed with cancer his plan was to have surgery and slow down. That plan didn’t work out because after the surgery the cancer was gone and he went back to doing what he loved. The one plan that did work out was for people to come into contact with Herbert Greene and fall in love with him. That plan never failed.
The Friend- HERBERT GREENE
The Friend of a Friend-SONNY SMITH
The Tennessee Gentleman
In the college basketball coaching world today you have egos, tempers and individualism, Sonny Smith was the opposite he was about humbleness, getting to work early and shaking someone’s hand like he has known them forever. If you don’t feel comfortable around Sonny, then you may want to look in the mirror. The Sonny Smith I know is warm and friendly and makes you feel good about yourself, while possessing the sense of humor that made players, fans, fellow coaches, and reporters smile.
Everybody I have ever met just called him Sonny.
Born November 15, 1936 in Roan Mountain, Tennessee, Sonny was the first of two sons for Grigg and Irma Smith. His father made a living as a mill worker and his mother as a cafeteria employee at the local schools. He went on to play college basketball at Holmes Junior College and Milligan. At Milligan two important things happened. He met his wife Jan and met his lifetime friend Del Harris.
The two became best friends serving as each others best man in their respective weddings. It is a friendship that still remains as strong as ever. Dell is the former head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks. Dell Harris more than once asked Smith to join him on the NBA sidelines, only to be turned down as Sonny stayed in the college ranks.
Sonny coached at a lot of places including Auburn. In the 1980’s Smith guided Auburn to five straight NCAA Tournaments and a SEC Championship in 1985. He also added a pair of conference Coach-of-the-Year awards to his resume in 1984 and 1988. He has some gifted players at Auburn including Charles Barkley.
Photo below is of Sonny and Sir Charles Barkley
Sonny still has celebrity status in the state of Alabama.
Herbert Greene and Sonny Smith were a good team at Auburn. Herbert Greene and Columbus State were also special team.
Sonny Smith, myself, and a hundred other coaches all lost a friend on Monday. Rest in peace Herbert.