Frank Smouse, who coached the linebackers on the first Bengals teams in 1968 before becoming a trusted scout for Paul and Mike Brown over the next five decades, died Friday after suffering a stroke.
Smouse, 95, teamed with director or player personnel Pete Brown to anchor one of the smallest but also one of the respected scouting departments in the NFL. The Bengals became one of the more successful expansion teams in pro sports history when they made the postseason in their third year and in their first 15 seasons they reached the playoffs five times, won three AFC Central titles and went to a Super Bowl.
"It was exceptional to think we had a scouting department that consisted of Frank and Pete," Mike Brown said Friday. "The amazing thing was we did quite well."
Smouse, who went from Greg Cook to Peter Warrick in the Bengals draft room, retired from full-time scouting duties in the middle of the '90s but remained in a part-time role until just before the 2001 draft. He was affable but had the private streak of a scout not wanting to tip his hand. His expression, "Evaluate the evaluator," is a Bengals classic still uttered less than two weeks from the 2019 draft.
Like any good scout, he always kept you guessing. His favorite singer was Vaughn Monroe and his favorite song was Monroe's "Riders in the Sky." But whenever he watched tape during the Bengals training camp at Wilmington College, he opened the door of his Pickett Hall dorm room next to Mike Brown's and treated passers-by to breezes of classical music.
"It was better than some of the other options that were available," Brown said. "We got to the point where we would talk through the walls to get the other's attention."
When a new reporter on the Bengals beat once asked Smouse during a training camp practice what he thought of a player, Smouse answered curtly, "Paul Brown pays me for my opinion." Smouse was able to keep his veil of secrecy because he primarily worked out of his home in Kent, but would visit the Riverfront Stadium offices at key times of the draft season. Jim Lippincott, who joined the Bengals personnel department in 1992, remembers Smouse usually departing with the words, "I'll see you when I see you," but he was also known to disappear without saying anything "like poof," in a puff of smoke.
But Smouse could also be generous. He would later baptize the new reporter, "Scoop," and in the previous decade when Lippincott was a high school coach trying to learn as much as he could about the game by watching the Bengals practice at Spinney Field, he remembers Smouse taking him aside and explaining why holders tilt the ball for extra points and field goals.
"From that day on, he taught me a lot," Lippincott said. "When I got to the Bengals he showed me how to write (scouting) reports succinctly. Make your words say a lot. He took the medical reports and showed me how to read the charts and graphs. I was always amazed at how smart he was. He was very well read and knew so much about history and different cultures."
Smouse was a true son of the Depression in Ohio who spent time in an orphanage before playing football for East Liverpool High School and then at Youngstown College. He began coaching junior high school football and moved into the high school ranks and in 1956 joined the coaching staff for the next 11 years at Kent State, where he was also a physical education professor.
It was in that job he gave Alabama coach Nick Saban his only college "B," according to family lore. Long before he helped a Kent grad assistant named Lou Holtz get his first coaching job, his wife's mother babysat Holtz.
"He was a humble guy. He didn't go for the attention," said Jeff Smouse, Frank's son who also played college ball before becoming a high school coach. "After a practice at training camp there would be people looking for autographs and when they came up to him he would say, 'You don't want mine. I'm a nobody.'"
Nothing could be farther from the truth, particularly in the Bengals draft room. He met Paul Brown through a Kent State connection, Rick Forzano, the Bengals' first running backs coach, and during that first season they hit it off.
"My father didn't know his father and didn't have a father growing up, but I think he got some of that from Paul Brown," said Barb Colucci, Smouse's daughter.
Smouse, who always had the lithe, wiry body of the phys ed professor he was for nearly 30 years at Kent, was known for getting his walks in anywhere. From the yard lines at Spinney Field to the laps he'd walk in hotel pools on family vacations.
"He was a man's man the way he took care of his body," Lippincott said.
So he was in tip-top shape to take some good natured ribbing from Mike Brown about no one in the world having more pensions.
When his wife Patricia died two years ago, the Smouses were a week shy of their 73rd anniversary. She was a school teacher in Kent before she retired. Brown noted her husband was also fully pensioned with the Bengals and Kent State, and he was also a World War II veteran from his days in the Merchant Marine.
"It shows you to how many different places he was connected," Brown said. "He was with us for a long time and we grew to love him."