In an off-season filled with change and uncertainty, one of the bigger changes has occurred at Tennyson High in Hayward, where long-time head coach Terry Smith announced that he would be stepping down from the helm of the Lancers’ program, pursuing another career opportunity this coming spring.
Smith has been hired as the offensive coordinator for the Oakland Panthers, a professional indoor football team owned in part by Marshawn Lynch. The Panthers are slated to start play this coming March, and when the CIF moved the high school football season to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith had to make the tough choice to step down after 17 years leading the Tennyson program. He will remain as a teacher on the Tennyson campus.
“From day one, we were always the underdog. We had the reputation of being an easy win when I took over,” Smith said. “But we changed that. We had a recipe for success, and we were able to watch the recipe result in great things over the years.”
Smith’s teams won 81 games during his tenure, but the total amount is misleading considering what Smith inherited. Over the years, he recruited his former athletes to rejoin the program as coaches, and his vision slowly took shape, molded by those who bought into his expectations and passed that knowledge on to new waves of Lancer athletes.
After winning 26 games in his first eight years at the helm, Tennyson surged to 55 victories and seven NCS playoff appearances over the next nine seasons, playing for four straight West Alameda County Conference league titles from 2012-2015 and capturing two of those crowns, later adding another in 2018. The turnaround started with a second-place finish in the HAAL in 2011 and carried over to the newly formed league in 2012, when the Lancers dominated the Shoreline Division before getting promoted to the Foothill Division, where they also competed for league titles.
“I am just proud of so many Tennyson alums, and what they have all done for this program over the years,” Smith stated. “I am truly most proud of the relationships built and the restoring of a high level of pride in the program.”
Tennyson fell just short of a division title in 2014, its first year in the Foothill, but the Lancers also posted a truly memorable four-game stretch during that season, putting themselves on the map as a major player in the Bay Area.
That stretch started in the fourth quarter of a non-league game against rival Mt. Eden, with the Lancers staring at a 21-point deficit. Tennyson, however, rallied for a 42-42 tie against the Monarchs, as quarterback Christian Silva ran for 233 yards and five scores. Things got even more improbable the following week against powerhouse Bishop O’Dowd, as the Lancers saw the Dragons rally from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter to take a late one-point lead. Tennyson, meanwhile, followed the lead of its cool-headed coach, kept its composure and shocked O’Dowd with a long field goal in the final seconds for a 33-31 victory.
All of that seemed like nothing compared to the following week’s game against Castro Valley, an eye-popping 85-77 shootout in which the teams combined for more than 1,400 yards of offense before the Tennyson defense came up with a game-winning stop in overtime.
“They were killing us with counters and sweeps, but they couldn’t stop us either,” Smith recalled. “It was just so much fun.”
The Lancers wrapped up the four-game stretch with a fourth-quarter touchdown to beat Encinal, 26-20, the following week. The physically and emotionally exhaustive stretch gave way to a heart-breaking defeat against Berkeley the following week, a game in which the Yellowjackets flipped the script on the Lancers by scoring the final 13 points of the game for a three-point victory, but the foundation had been laid for another break-through in the 2015 season.
After a season-opening loss to James Logan, the 2015 version of Smith’s Lancers rattled off eight straight wins to set up a season-ending winner-take-all league title game against San Leandro. In a game characterized by wild swings of momentum, Tennyson scored the first 29 points before watching the Pirates storm back to tie the game and force overtime, and eventually win a 44-43 instant classic. Unlike the previous year, however, the Lancers did not let this setback derail them from bigger goals, routing Alameda in the first round of the NCS playoffs for the program’s first-ever NCS victory before falling to Granada in a back-and-forth quarterfinal shootout.
“That playoff win definitely goes down as one of the most memorable moments for this program,” Smith said. “The loss to Granada after that was another wild night, and it all just capped an incredible run for Tennyson football.”
Amazingly, Smith’s 17-year tenure with Tennyson has also been marked with consistent staffing, an increasing rarity in high school football. That starts with Marcus Reed, the long-time head junior varsity coach for the Lancers who has coached all 17 seasons with Smith and took over as defensive coordinator this past year, when Tennyson once again placed in the top three of the league standings.
“Marcus has been here with me since the beginning, and he has been the instrumental guy in developing the program from the ground up,” Smith said.
Another long-time figure for Smith’s staff was defensive coordinator Anthony Jackson, who held that title from 2011-2018 and will coach defensive backs for the Panthers.
“Coach Jack coming on board as DC was huge for the Tennyson program,” Smith added. “Things really took off from there.”
John Pangelina, a Tennyson alum who played for Smith, was another consistent figure on staff for the past nine seasons, while former Washington State and San Jose Sabercats standout Marlin Brown also had a positive impact on the program. Brown will coach the defensive line for the Panthers.
Smith also made sure to recognize the support over the years from the school administration, especially former athletic director Hugh Lenahan.
“The support changed over the years from the top, but it was always there,” Smith remarked. “Hugh, especially, was always a very supportive AD.”
Now, Smith takes his high-octane offense to the ranks of professional football, where he will be on the staff of former Piedmont and Arroyo head coach Kurt Bryan, who created the A-11 offense while leading the Highlanders’ program.
“Incredible coaches like Terry are hard to come by. I remember when Terry became the head coach at Tennyson, and it was a dire situation after four brutal seasons when he took over there. With his leadership, that became an outstanding program and it is now a destination job for aspiring head coaches,” Bryan said. “The valuable life skills that Terry and his staff imparted on the student-athletes at Tennyson shall carry on his legacy for generations to come. But now, we are thrilled for Terry and for the future of our franchise. It is a well-deserved step up for him.”
After a year delay due to the current pandemic, the Oakland Panthers are set to begin play on March 20 with a 16-game schedule.
Around the WACC
Smith’s resignation from the Tennyson program was the third blow to what had been a consistent group of high-achieving head coaches around the league.
Justin Redemer served as head coach at Hayward for nine seasons, leading the Farmers to back-to-back WACC-Shoreline titles in his final two years. That included an unbeaten league season in 2019, when Hayward also won 10 games and reached the NCS semifinals with a post-season win over American Canyon. He has stepped down to spend more time with his family.
The Farmers will employ a co-head coach model in the 2020-21 season, having promoted former defensive coordinator Asi Moa into one of the positions, joined by last year’s head junior varsity coach, Nate Moore. Moore is also a 1991 Hayward alum.
“We owe Justin a great deal. He came in and righted a sinking ship with football,” said Hayward athletic director Kristy Prasad. “I also feel good about the future. With all the uncertainty, it is important to keep some familiarity in the program, and Asi and Nate will both do a great job. It will be fun to see what happens and to watch the continued growth of the program.”
Redemer’s departure from the Hayward program also came on the heels of Napoleon Kaufman stepping away from the Bishop O’Dowd program. Kaufman’s tenure included NCS and CIF titles in both 2016 and 2018, plus a CIF title in 2016. David Perry is the new head coach on the Oakland private school campus, bringing with him experience at both the high school and junior college level.