Arnie Smith never played varsity football as a Tech High student, but at the University of Omaha he was a starter on the team that won the 1955 Tangerine Bowl.
He went on to a career in education that included coaching with Clete Fischer at Omaha South and Midland, Texas, and working in the Bellevue schools as an administrator.
Smith, 82, died Saturday. He was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia, said his daughter, Anna Kiscoan of Omaha.
“He was just a kind of tough, but always smiling, guy,” former teammate Emil Radik Jr. said. “He and Pete Rigatuso, our other fullback, had the same body type. Skinny ankles, but built up top.”
After graduating in 1949 from Tech, Smith enlisted and served 3½ years in the Coast Guard.
“He did that so he could go to college on the GI Bill,” Kiscoan said. “He grew up very poor. At one point he considered making the Coast Guard a career, but felt he had responsibilities taking care of his mother.”
Smith played several positions at OU, including blocking back and linebacker. The Indians went undefeated in 1954, capped by the 7-6 win over Eastern Kentucky in the New Year’s Day bowl game in Orlando. He was named the OU Alumni Association’s athlete of the year in 1956, his graduation year.
He taught two years in the Omaha schools, then went with Fischer to Midland as line coach. He joined the Bellevue schools in 1961 and was an assistant on coach Bill James’ football staff at Bellevue High before becoming the school’s athletic director in 1965. He served on the Nebraska School Activities Association board from 1970 to 1979.
Smith retired in October 1989 after 28 years in Bellevue, the final 20 as its assistant superintendent for business.
“He was a terrific friend,” said Rudy Rotella, another former OU teammate. “We’d still meet every couple weeks until recently and have a milkshake or something.”
In retirement, Smith was an avid golfer.
“He was a ‘golf cop’ at Shadow Ridge. He gave that up when all he wanted to do was play golf,” his daughter said. “Even this past summer, when his condition worsened, I started taking him to the range at Eagle Hills. We’d get him set up properly and my nieces and nephews were amazed how he could still hit that ball. That was his passion.”
Survivors include his wife of 56 years, Phyllis, and their five children: Kiscoan, Claire Learch, Carl Smith and Gina Cronican, all of Omaha, and Carmen Harrington of Denver. There are 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A funeral Mass at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, 74th and Hascall Streets, will be followed by interment at Calvary Cemetery.
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