PITTSBURG — After spending 37 years in the program, legendary St. Mary’s Colgan head football coach Chuck Smith is walking away from his spot on the sidelines.

Taking the podium following morning Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, an emotional Smith addressed family, friends, faculty and the student body about the decision to step down from the football program.

“It was difficult, it really was,” Smith said. “I’ve really had a lot of anxiety in the last 24 hours. When this is your whole life, and it’s been so good to you — to quit it is hard. It was very difficult, but it was a good time because we have a good nucleus coming back, which is going to give the new head coach a fair chance.”

The decision to retire from coaching wasn’t easily made.

In fact, Smith said he had been mulling over the idea for the last four years, but it was his passion for teaching young men the game of football — while incorporating life lessons along the way — which made it difficult to call it quits.

“I think a football coach is one of the most important jobs in our society because our society needs it,” Smith said. “(Football) is a way for a boy to go through his adolescence and get rid of some his energy, and learn to succeed and learn to fail. Sometimes, you just get flat whipped, and not just mentally whipped, but physically whipped. You’ve got to get back up and get after it again, so I think it is a good thing.”

Smith is leaving behind quite a legacy at St. Mary’s Colgan. He is the all-time winningest coach in program history, with a 343-75 record. Smith ends his career with five state championships, six state championship runner-up finishes, 23 total state playoff appearances and 12 Crawford-Neosho-Cherokee League titles. He was selected as the Kansas All-Class Coach of the Year in 2001, was chosen to coach in the 2013 Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl and was the head coach for the East team in the 1998 Kansas Shrine Bowl.

“From an (athletic director’s) perspective, as a school, we are thankful and have been blessed,” SMC Athletic Director and Defensive Coordinator Kyle Wolf said. “For many, many years — and not just for our football team, but throughout our school — what he has done for our community and our kids, you can’t compare that to anything.

“As a coach who has worked for him, the blessing that I’ve received in seeing him work with kids – the Xs and Os are one thing, but the way he makes every kid feel like they are the most important part of that team, that’s why they’ve worked so hard for him over the years.”

Though the list of accomplishments doesn’t end there, some of Smith’s fondest memories were coaching his four sons, Nick, Mark, Jeff and Chas, who all were quarterbacks for Colgan before going on to play football at Pittsburg State University.

“Isn’t that a blessing? That was a bad case of nepotism, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Smith said. “I’m glad I did, and I am glad it worked out at the position. Most of the time, the decision was pretty easy, so I didn’t have to worry about my son being the quarterback.”

Smith also had three daughters — Lori, Christy and Sarah — whom attended SMC and were cheerleaders in the athletics program.

After graduating from Atchison High School, Smith went on to play quarterback at Pitt State from 1970-73, where he was a four-year letterman. It was at PSU where Smith met his wife, Beth, whom he credits as the backbone of his life.

As far as what the future holds, don’t expect to see Smith in the stands or on the sidelines next season during Panther games. He said he doesn’t want his successor to feel any pressure in taking over the program.

“I told Kyle Wolf, I am not going to show up, I am not going to go to the games,” Smith said. “I really am just going to stay away. When I took (former SMC head football coach) Frank Crespino’s job, he never interfered or gave me any advice unless I asked for it, and I am going to be the same way. I know it is going to be sad when I see them beating big teams and wishing I were part of it, but I can only hope they have the same success I had.”

Smith did have a bit of advice for the next head football coach at SMC, however.

“The only advice I would give to my successor is be yourself,” Smith said. “I couldn’t be Frank Crespino, and my successor cannot be me … You are who you are, and the kids will rally around you and throw their support to you.”

While he is stepping away from coaching, Smith plans to continue teaching mathematics at SMC for one more year.

“I am not the smartest man in the world, but I really take my classroom serious too,” Smith said. “It means a lot to me because it is important that I get the kids ready for college. The classroom is very important to me, and is something I’ve worked hard at also.”

Smith added what he will miss the most are the people he interacted with on a daily basis.

“I think the thing I am going to miss the most is just seeing kids grow up,” Smith said. “I don’t have a passion for football, and I don’t have a passion for basketball or golf — nine holes is all I can stand. I really feel like I have a passion for people, not just high school kids, but people … Being a teacher and a coach, you can really [help people].

“One of the biggest honors I’ve really had is when one of the non-football members come up and introduces me as their football coach. I just really like that.”

— Lucas Davis is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at ldavis@morningsun.net and follow him on twitter @LDsportswriter.