When Ernest J. Smith was named the head football coach at Norristown High, he didn't wait for a reporter to put the appropriate words in his mouth.

"This is a dream come true,' Smith said in the summer of 2003 when he succeeded Pa. coaching Hall of Famer Roger Grove as the top man in the Eagles nest.

For Smith, that statement was not a cliche or a throwaway line to feed the press.

A 1975 Norristown graduate who had played under then-assistant coach Grove, it was always Smith's ambition to return to his home town and run the football program.

And for the majority of his time as the Norristown head coach, the Eagles have been successful, even winning the school's first outright Suburban One League football crown in 52 years when it claimed the SOL American Conference title in 2009 (all of those achieved in between had been shared with other schools).

But over the past two seasons, Smith's dream has more resembled a nightmare.

The Eagles, who host Cheltenham this weekend in their final Suburban One League American Conference game of the season, will enter the contest with a two-year, 16-game losing streak. The program has won just once in its last 22 starts, and there are whispers that Smith's 10th season could be his last.

In typical fashion, Smith will not discuss the matter.

"I'm only going to talk about something when there's something to talk about,' Smith said. "Right now, we're trying to win a football game on Saturday.'

Conversations haven't been necessary because it's only in rare instances that a scholastic head coach of any athletic team is replaced in the midst of a season.


Advertisement

But if there are wolves howling at Smith's coaching door, they're not about to send the coach scrambling for cover.

"There's no pressure on me,' he said. "I just go out and coach. I enjoy coaching.'

It's something Smith has done since a successful collegiate playing career at Shippensburg State College in the mid-1970s, with assistant's stops at Delaware Valley College, Plymouth Whitemarsh and even Norristown before taking the head coaching job for three seasons at Jenkintown.

After taking the reins at Norristown, Smith, who doubles as the school's assistant principal, had a respectable 44-38 record, including the aforementioned SOL championship in 2009, before the recent 1-21 string.

But even through these hard times, Smith has demonstrated his fair share of resolve.

"It's not just one thing you can put your finger on,' Smith said of the recent downturn in the Eagles' fortunes. "We just need to become more consistent and play through adversity.

"We have to play through the ups and downs and find ways to be successful. Sure, we've had our share of injuries, but that's part of football. That's something teams have to play through.'

Smith said he's had some friends and well-wishers who have offered words of encouragement. But he knows the only thing that will make him feel better will happen between a pair of goalposts.

"Really,' he said, "our main goal isn't about wins and losses. It's about taking young men and challenging them to be successful, to give them an opportunity to continue with a (college) education, and we've been pretty successful in that goal.

"We have a lot of Norristown graduates who are playing football in college, and even some who are not playing football anymore but who are continuing with their secondary education.'

While rumors fly and names of replacements are whispered, the Norristown head football coach is doing what he's done since he graduated from college.

And until there's something to talk about, he's going to continue doing it.

"I know this,' he said. "We'll keep playing.'

* * *

With most of the games of league-title importance played this past weekend, this final weekend of the regular season for District One will focus on claiming outright league titles - Plymouth Whitemarsh needs a win over Springfield or an Upper Dublin loss to Upper Merion to lay claim to its third straight SOL American championship, while North Penn needs a win over Souderton or a Central Bucks West loss to Central Bucks South to grab an unlikely (after an 0-3 start) SOL Continental title.

In the race for PIAA Class AAAA playoff berths, Perkiomen Valley, North Penn, Plymouth Whitemarsh, Upper Dublin and Spring-Ford are all currently in the field of 16, and can only play themselves out of postseason consideration with losses.

In Class AAA, 11th-ranked Upper Merion would require a win over Upper Dublin and some help to slide into the eight-team field.