“I’m excited to get another chance to revive a baseball program,” Coach Marcus Smith said over lunch at the iconic Beautiful Restaurant in southwest Atlanta.
Fourteen lunch months ago, Smith walked away from the Head Baseball Coach position at Le Moyne-Owen in Memphis, Tennessee over an NCAA compliance issue that occurred two years before he became head coach at the school.
“This past year has been a difficult one for me. Everyone assumed I knowingly played an ineligible player. I have felt bad all year,” he offered.
Smith served as an assistant coach at Le Moyne-Owen in 2012-2013. He left to take an assistant coaching position at Morehouse College after the 2013 baseball season, where he worked until 2015 when he received the head coach job offer at Le Moyne-Owen.
During the time Smith was coaching at Morehouse, Le Moyne-Owen brought a student-athlete into its baseball program. For some reason, this athlete’s amateur status did not clear the NCAA Clearing House. He was on the roster in 2015 when Smith was brought back to Le Moyne-Owen as a head baseball coach. Smith assumed that all the student-athletes he inherited had cleared NCAA certification as an amateur.
Two years later, Smith maneuvered his club into the 2018 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) Championship Tournament. The year before, Smith took a team that won four conference games as the last seed in the conference championship tourney. His team played themselves out of the loser’s bracket into the championship game. A game Le Moyne-Owen led into the seventh inning against a strong Miles College team before eventually losing. For his efforts, the conference awarded Smith the SIAC Outstanding Tournament Coach Award.
In 2018, Smith believed he could claw his team back into the championship round. He made his travel requisition to include four days, something he did not do in 2017. That year, he ran out of money for laundry and food but received a blessing from the hotel housekeeping staff. They offered to wash the team uniforms.
The night before his team departed for the 2018 tournament, Smith attended the athletic department awards banquet, dreaming of how he expected his team to play during the week.
When he arrived home from the banquet, Smith received an email from the school’s compliance officer informing him that the NCAA suspended the baseball program from participating in post-season play.
Apparently, the compliance officer self-reported the violation to the NCAA without alerting Smith that an ineligible student was on the team and had been on the squad for four years.
“I was stunned. Nobody told me this player was ineligible. Everybody pointed their finger at me. I felt I did not get the support I needed from the compliance officer, so I resigned. What if this happened again under my watch,” Smith queried?
Smith never offered his version of what happened. He walked away without explanation. He felt too embarrassed to discuss it.
“I was so relieved to get this offer from Voorhees College. I have been a finalist for the head coaching jobs in Division I programs, but I could never seal the deal. I think the public not knowing the truth had something to do with not getting those job offers,” Smith stated, taking in a deep breath of relief.
The new job could provide a fresh start of sorts for Smith. At Voorhees, in addition to his baseball coaching duties, he will serve as the Athletic Academic Enhancement Coordinator. In this role, Smith is responsible for ensuring that all student-athletes receive their degrees in four years. He will manage the athlete’s course work and make sure that the study hall is available for all the school’s athletes.
“We are delighted to have Coach Smith in our athletic program, said Dr. Adrian West, Dean of Students at Voorhees. West took over as baseball head coach in the middle of the past season when the school lost the head coach.
“Smith brings his wealth of experience in college baseball as a coach, recruiter, and administrator to our program,” West said.
According to West, Smith will assume his duties at Voorhees on August 1, 2019.
“I like the idea of restoring baseball programs,” Smith said as he looks ahead for a chance to work his magic on the baseball field at Voorhees.
“I’ve got a 30-game schedule already mapped out. I feel rejuvenated,” Smith said.
Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist. Harvey is a Past President of the Gate City Bar Association. He is the recipient of Gate City’s R. E. Thomas Civil Rights Award, which he received because of his pro bono representation of students arrested during Freaknik celebrations in the mid to late 1990s. He is a Contributor at The Hill, SCLC National Magazine, Southern Changes Magazine, Medium, and Black College Nines. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.