Jim Smith, one of the most popular, experienced and successful managers in the recent history of English football, has died at the age of 79 after a long illness.
A manager for almost 1,500 games across nine clubs and 39 years, Smith won promotions at Birmingham City, Oxford United, Colchester United and Derby County but also famously led Queens Park Rangers to the League Cup final and Portsmouth to an FA Cup semi-final.
There were also spells at Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers, as well assistant manager positions at Southampton, Portsmouth and Coventry City.
Nicknamed the ‘Bald Eagle’, he managed Oxford through two promotions and into the top-flight during the mid-1980s under the ownership of Robert Maxwell and later also formed a hugely successful partnership as assistant manager to Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth. He also served as League Managers Association (LMA) chief executive before returning to management and leading Derby to the Premier League in 1996 and was still in the dugout as recently as 2008 at Oxford United.
A club statement from Oxford read: "Oxford United lost a club legend today. Jim had fought illness with his usual bravery for some time. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time."
Smith's first managerial job had been as player-manager at Boston United way back in 1969 when he was only 28. Smith was later also inducted into the LMA Hall of Fame and its current chairman, Howard Wilkinson, paid tribute on Tuesday.
"Jim and I have known each other since our teenage years, and I have been in his debt since the day he asked me to become player-coach at Boston United where I served my apprenticeship,” said Wilkinson. "I have so many fond memories of Jim as a football manager but foremost as a friend. He was intelligent, passionate, determined, honest and always great fun to be with. Never one to mince his words, he was a leader in the truest sense. He was liked and admired by everyone around him, truly an authentic, down-to-earth gentleman."
Smith was renowned for his no-nonsense, blunt but sometimes humourous man-management style but he was hugely popular with players and also adept in his identification of talent. Darren Anderton, John Aldridge, Igor Stimac, Aliosa Asanovic, Guy Whittingham, Trevor Hebberd, Kevin Brock and Paulo Wanchope were among his more inspired and best value-for-money signings.
In 1999 i signed for one of the greatest managerial characters that ever graced the English game. Jim “the bald eagle” Smith was a legend. Funny, straight talking, loved life and football. It was a privilege to play for you. RIP Jim ❤️ pic.twitter.com/q4twWrYp8D
— Craig Burley (@CBurleyESPN) December 10, 2019
It is with deep regret that Derby County Football Club has this evening learnt of the passing of its former manager, Jim Smith.
The thoughts of everyone associated with Derby County go out to Jim’s family at this difficult time. �� pic.twitter.com/BMXr9hF38x
— Derby County (@dcfcofficial) December 10, 2019
I’ve just heard my old Manager at @NUFC Jim Smith has passed away,what a character,a proper football man and he loved his Racing too
R.I.P Jim aka The Bald Eagle ⚽️
— Mick Quinn (@mickquinn1089) December 10, 2019
Numerous players and fellow managers were paying tribute on Tuesday. “In 1999 I signed for one of the greatest managerial characters that ever graced the English game,” said Craig Burley, who played under Smith at Derby. “Jim 'the bald eagle' Smith was a legend. Funny, straight talking, loved life and football. It was a privilege to play for you. RIP Jim.”
"When I worked with him, he was up on the cutting edge of coaching," Marco Gabbiadini, who played for Smith at Derby, told BBC Newcastle. "He'd go off and spend time away with clubs like Milan and see what they were up to. He was a very popular guy. I had huge respect for Jim."
LMA chief executive Richard Bevan added: "Jim was a true friend to the LMA and will be very sorely missed by his colleagues and friends. He was an inspiration to so many people throughout his career and a highly valued member of the LMA Hall of Fame - 1,000 Club in recognition of his contribution, achievement and legacy to the game.
"When Jim was approached by the LMA to become the association's chief executive in 1995, he gladly accepted the responsibility, only relinquishing the position to return to management with Derby County. Our thoughts and sincere condolences are with his wife Yvonne and all his family and friends."