By Stephanie Kuzydym
Feb. 1, 2020
“Kevin Sherrington’s first three months at the world’s greatest sports section, Sports Day, had been peaceful, considering his boss was universally regarded as an asshole.”
That’s the lede of a D Magazine piece from 1993.
And it’s the first thing Dave Smith laughs at when he picks up the phone from his Dallas home.
“So you read the D Magazine article, huh? What’d you think?”
Dave Smith was the boss of the world’s greatest sports section when sports sections were still staffed at 100.
The Morning News didn’t just cover a story – it owned it. It didn’t just have a sports staff – it had someone who covered the entire league and someone else covering local teams. It was the Morning News that uncovered recruiting violations at Southern Methodist that led to the first “death penalty.”
“We had two full time people that that’s all they did for a year was investigate that,” Smith said. “I think you need those resources. I think it’s the responsibility of newspapers to be the watchdog on what’s going on in the community. Somebody has to go beyond sports.”
That’s when local reporters were the real voices in the community, when a newspaper columnist had power. It was literally a different game – and it’s one Smith came to via an untraditional route.
After graduating high school in Ohio, Smith joined the Marine Corp in 1957 and was assigned to the public information office. His first job was typing up form press releases to send to hometown newspapers.
He also played on the Marine Corps’ baseball team.
“Maybe two months into it, the officer called me in,” Smith said. “He said, ‘I know you play sports. What about newspapers?’ I said, ‘Well, I read them.’
Good, the officer responded. Now you’re going to be the sports editor.
It was a weekly newspaper and it’s where Smith said he fell in love with great writing.
“I was not a great writer, but I recognized great writing,” he said. “And I consider myself a somewhat decent editor.”
Decent is an understated word for it.
Smith started his professional career at the Mansfield (Ohio) News Journal in 1960. Within two decades, he went from decent to the best.
Smith joined the Boston Globe as its sports editor in 1970. By 1977, Time Magazine named Smith’s sports section the best in the country.
A few years later, Smith moved to the Dallas Morning News — where he was featured in that D Magazine article: “Fiery Dallas Morning News editor Dave Smith has built the perfect sports section.”
It wasn’t just a catchy subhead. Under Smith, the Morning News became the nation’s most-honored sports section. Smith credits the editor who hired him, Bill Osborne, with giving him the people, the support and autonomy to build the best talent Smith could find.
For Smith, covering sports successfully isn’t about just writing a story. It’s about developing relationships and keeping communication lines open — with owners, with coaches, with managers, with players and on.
Back then, at the beginning of every season, before the Dallas Cowboys started training camp, the Morning News invited Jerry Jones and Jimmie Johnson to lunch.
“The purpose of the luncheon was to make sure everybody was in tune with each other as far as them understanding we’re going to cover the team and we’re going to write about the good, the bad and indifferent, but we also made it clear, we’d never blindside them if we had a criticism or something we uncovered about the team that was negative,” Smith said. “We’d give them the opportunity to respond first.
“At the same time, we asked them not to surprise us either. Don’t lie to us. If you’re not going to comment, just say, ‘We’re not going to comment.’”
That meant a lot to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. In 2004, Jones made a replica of the Tiffany-made Super Bowl Trophy. He gave it to Smith for his retirement.
Smith, a founder of APSE, earned the prestigious Red Smith Award in 1990. He was inducted into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991, the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2003 and the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.
Smith still reads a lot and enjoys golfing – but he and Betty, his wife of 60 years, moved back to Dallas not to revisit old stories…
“Maybe I could think of somebody who would say something bad about me,” Smith said when asked about his former writers. “They accused me of being a tyrant.”
… but for his grandchildren.
“I’m just enjoying life,” he said.