A conversation with…

Frank Smith, head coach, University of British Columbia Thunderbirds

In Vanier Cup XVIII, at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium, the UBC Thunderbirds scored three touchdowns in a span of four minutes in the opening quarter en route to a 39-14 win over the Western Ontario Mustangs and the first national title in program history. It marked the first of two triumphs in four trips to the Vanier Cup for head coach Franck Smith, who would again lead the T-Birds to the CIAU championship in 1986.

What is your major memory of the entire Vanier Cup week and the overall experience?

It was such a wonderful experience for all of our players. Winning the game finished it off on the right foot.

What is your one major lasting memory of the actual game?

We were just really happy to win the game. Western had a very good football team and so did we. It was one of those things where we were able to win fairly decisively because our guys really played well that day, but I do take my hat off for Western because they had an excellent team and program.

(Note: UBC had one previous Vanier Cup appearance under its belt, a 16-3 loss to Queen’s in 1978, while Western Ontario had already played in five CIAU finals, winning four of them)

What do you remember as the key play of the game?

I would have to look at the film. There were a lot of big plays in the game and I wouldn’t want to single one out and take away from the other ones.

(Note: Glenn Steele, a three-time all-Canadian running back, was named game MVP after he tallied 236 rushing yards on 21 carries, including touchdown runs of seven and 57 yards in the first quarter, while also adding 25 yards on two receptions. His 236 yards on the ground and 261 all-purpose yards were both new Vanier Cup records at the time)

Did the coaches do anything different from normal routine in the preparation for the game?

We had won the national semi-final in Halifax quite convincingly against StFX. Then we came into Toronto and spent the whole week there, so we were pretty acclimatized to the surroundings.

(Note: The Thunderbirds, who went 11-0 overall in 1982, were on a roll heading into the Vanier Cup final after dominating Manitoba 57-3 in the WIFL conference championship match and StFX 54-1 in the Atlantic Bowl)

What are your memories of the post-game celebrations on the field and/or in the dressing room?

The biggest thing was that all the guys were so happy. We had a disciplined type of football team and they knew they had to play really well to win that game, so to win fairly decisively was to our tribute.

What are your memories of the trip back home?

Everyone was really happy. It was our first Vanier Cup and so it was history for UBC. But our season wasn’t over at that point. We actually had one more exhibition game to play that year, the Shrum Bowl against Simon Fraser, who were playing against U.S. competition at the time. It was an important game for us so we needed to be ready for it the next week.

(Note: UBC defeated SFU 19-8 in the 1982 Shrum Bowl, one of Smith’s eight wins in 12 Shrum Bowl appearances as head coach)

What was the reaction on campus when the team returned?

In those days, we got very good coverage from the local media all season long. A lot of people were excited about it because it was our first Vanier Cup win.

At the time, how did winning the Vanier Cup change your everyday life?

Not to a great extent. I had been around for a while by that time. We worked every week to do the best we could with the resources we had available. The key thing to that 1982 team was recruiting it, bringing those players in and getting them together and so forth. Our team had great leaders and our assistant coaches did a great job.

(Note: Smith was head coach at UBC for 21 seasons from 1974 to 1994, winning CIAU coach-of-the-year honours twice, in 1978 and 1987)

How often to you reminisce about your Vanier Cup wins?

You get reminded of the hard work everyone put in any time you see a player or coach from those teams. We had a great sense of family and caring. The players had great ability and they executed well.

Where did you go to university, what did you study, and did you play football there?

I’m a graduate of Eastern Washington University in Physical Education but I wasn’t on the football team. I had played in the CFL for five seasons and, as a result, I wasn’t eligible to play but I was an assistant coach instead.

Scott Harrigan
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