When the University of Memphis men’s basketball team takes to the court for the season opener at FedEx Forum, the loudest and proudest fan in the audience will probably be Donna Smith. That’s because Donna is not only wife to Tigers head coach Orlando “Tubby” Smith, she’s also the surrogate mom to all 15 players on the team and the pom-pom waving, Tiger blue-wearing cheerleader who is the conduit between the university and the players’ families. It’s a role at which Donna excels; after all, she’s followed and supported Tubby through his high school and college assistant coaching days, 12 moves, six head coaching jobs, one national championship and 19 post-season tournament appearances.
Raised in Richmond, VA, Donna was a freshman at High Point College, now High Point University, when she met Tubby, then a senior. The two dated long-distance while she finished her degree in Human Relations with a minor in Psychology. “My mom insisted that my degree have my birth name on it,” Donna says. Married 40 years, Donna is stepmother to Tubby’s daughter, Trisch, who is the Executive Vice President and Managing Director for Edelman, and she and Tubby have three sons: G.G., who played for his father at the University of Georgia and is now the coach at Loyola – Maryland; Saul, who played under his father at the University of Kentucky and is an assistant coach with his dad at UM, and Brian, who played point guard at Ole Miss and is the assistant dean and an assistant coach at a private school in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The Smiths have three grandchildren, ages 5, 3 and 5 months old. We’re thrilled to welcome Donna Smith to Memphis and introduce her to our readers!
Raising four children and moving frequently must have been tough when your kids were young.
Being the wife of the head coach comes with a lot of responsibilities, and a lot is expected of the spouses of all the coaches, especially the head coach. We’ve learned over the years that people also expect you to give back to the local community in different ways, whether it’s volunteering or helping with fundraising. So you find yourself pretty busy, and then on top of that you’ve got kids, and they have their activities, and so you can imagine with different ages of course no one’s ever on the very same team. And you learn quickly that you better become friends with the parents of your kids’ teammates. That’s your social circle, and you rely on them quite a bit. You rely and you trust other people to take care of things for you, and those relationships are the ones that stick and you keep those relationships over the years. So you can imagine our Christmas card list is pretty big. We’re old school, I still send cards.
Is it difficult to be the coach’s wife and the surrogate mom to the players on a team?
A lot of your livelihood depends on the minds of 18-, 19-, 20- and 21-year-olds, and so it’s a growing process. We are not only concerned with their basketball goals, but their spiritual goals, their academic goals and their social goals. You stay busy, and I say this all the time because a lot of women, I’ve learned over the years, can’t really do this. You’re not in the limelight, your husband always is, and you just learn how to go with the flow. You get your benefits in different ways; you get the privilege of moving all around the country, meeting new people, living in different homes, and there are a lot of other perks that come too. But it can be tough sometimes.
How are you enjoying Memphis?
I just love all of the different things that you can do here, and everything is right here. We love our neighborhood, love the neighbors – they are so friendly, and they’ve been eager to help and offer information.
Have you found some favorite Memphis spots since you moved here in the spring?
We really like … what is it? Folk’s Folly. We also like the Capital Grille. We’ve taken recruits there, and the service is just impeccable. We like Ching’s Wings — the players turned us onto that. Tubby’s radio show (on 600 WREC) is going to be at a place right there near campus called Newby’s. I’m anxious to get over to see Graceland to see all the new development.
I’ve got to ask this question. Not that you get upset with your husband, but if you do, do you call him Orlando?
Oh, yes. If I call him Orlando, you know it is serious.
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
I would wish that anybody who needed to get clean and sober, whether it was off of drugs or alcohol, we could do it by just taking a wand and touching them on the head. That would be my dream.
What one word describes you?
I feel like I’m full of humility.
What inspires you?
This is like an obvious answer, but I love the game of basketball. I love watching it … it’s just inspiring when you see people come together and they can play this beautiful game. It is not as easy as the average fan thinks. It is a hard game, and it does take talent.
What’s your best piece of advice for others?
My best piece of advice is to forgive. I am firm believer in that.
What are three lighthearted things that you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
I can’t live with my support group, and I can’t live without my electronics and my phone. It is like the equivalent of five or six different things for me. That is how I stay connected.
Thanks to Micki Martin for her wonderful photos of Donna, which were taken on the University of Memphis campus.
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