Sonny Smith

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Sonny Smith
Sport(s) Basketball
Biographical details
Born (1936-11-15) November 15, 1936 (age 81)
Roan Mountain, Tennessee
Playing career
1954–1956 Holmes CC
1956–1958 Milligan
Position(s) Guard
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1969–1970 William & Mary (asst.)
1970–1971 Pepperdine (asst.)
1971–1976 Virginia Tech (asst.)
1976–1978 East Tennessee State
1978–1989 Auburn
1989–1998 VCU
Head coaching record
Overall 339–304 (.527)
Tournaments 7–6 (NCAA)
0–1 (NIT)
Accomplishments and honors

Charles H. "Sonny" Smith (born November 15, 1936) is a retired American men's college basketball head coach. Originally from Roan Mountain, Tennessee, Smith served as a head coach for twenty-two seasons. Best known as the head coach at Auburn from 1978 to 1989, he also coached at East Tennessee State (1976–1978) and VCU (1989–1998). Smith won the 1985 SEC Tournament championship while at Auburn, and won both the CAA regular season and tournament titles in 1996 while at VCU. He made six NCAA Tournament appearances as a head coach, five at Auburn and one at VCU. Smith was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.

East Tennessee State[edit]

Sonny Smith was hired by East Tennessee State in 1976. He coached the Buccaneers for two seasons before leaving to become the head coach at Auburn. Smith finished with a record of 30–23 (.566) while at East Tennessee State.


Sonny Smith was hired by Auburn in the summer of 1978 after the recently hired Paul Lambert died in a hotel fire. Smith took the Auburn job despite returning all of his starters from the year before and moving into a new arena at East Tennessee State.[1]

Smith guided Auburn to its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance in 1984, led by future Hall of Fame player Charles Barkley. The Tigers were upset in the First Round, however, by the 12th-seeded Richmond Spiders. Smith was named SEC Coach of the Year following the 1984 season.

The 1985 regular season was considered a letdown, with the Tigers going 8–10 in conference play. Before the SEC Tournament, Smith announced his plan to retire at the end of the season. However, Smith and tournament MVP Chuck Person led Auburn to its first ever SEC Tournament championship, winning four games in four days for the first time in tournament history. He then coached that team to the Sweet Sixteen of the 1985 NCAA Tournament. Following this success, and despite receiving an offer from his former school, East Tennessee State,[2] Smith decided to remain at Auburn.[3] Smith would go on to lead the Tigers to three more NCAA Tournament appearances, making it as far as the Elite Eight in 1986. This streak of five straight NCAA Tournament appearances is the longest in Auburn history. Smith was again named SEC Coach of the Year following the 1988 season.

Following a losing season in 1989, Smith left Auburn to become the head coach at VCU, citing his doubts that he could return Auburn to the success of the previous five seasons.[4] His record at Auburn was 173–154 (.529). To date, he is the only coach in Auburn men's basketball history to have three consecutive 20-win seasons.


Though he did not achieve the level of success that he had while at Auburn, Sonny Smith's tenure at VCU was not without its bright spots. In his fourth season he led the Rams to 20 wins and an invitation to the 1993 NIT. Smith's best season at VCU was his seventh, the 1995–96 season. VCU had just left the struggling Metro Conference to become a member of the Colonial Athletic Association, and Smith led them to success in the new conference immediately. The Rams won both the CAA regular season and tournament championships, earning Smith's only NCAA Tournament bid at VCU. Smith was named CAA Coach of the Year at the end of the season.

Smith retired at the end of the 1997–98 season, with his longtime assistant coach Mack McCarthy taking over as head coach at VCU. Smith finished at VCU with a record of 136–127 (.517), and an overall head coaching record of 339–304 (.527).

Broadcasting career[edit]

After retiring from coaching, Smith joined his friend and former Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson on a sports talk radio show "The Sonny and Wimp Show" on WJOX-AM in Birmingham, Alabama. The show ran for more than six years before it was canceled in 2006.[5] From 2003 to 2014, Smith provided the color commentary for the Atlantic Sun Game of the Week on CSS.[6] Smith currently works alongside Rod Bramblett as the color commentator for Auburn men's basketball games on the Auburn Sports Network radio broadcast.

Head coaching record[edit]

Season Coach Overall Conference Standing Postseason
East Tennessee State (Ohio Valley Conference) (1976–1978)
1976–77 East Tennessee State 12–14 6–8 5th
1977–78 East Tennessee State 18–9 10–4 2nd
East Tennessee State: 30–23 (.566) 16–12 (.571)
Auburn (Southeastern Conference) (1978–1989)
1978–79 Auburn 13–16 5–13 9th
1979–80 Auburn 10–18 5–13 9th
1980–81 Auburn 11–16 4–14 9th
1981–82 Auburn 14–14 7–11 7th
1982–83 Auburn 15–13 8–10 8th
1983–84 Auburn 20–11 12–6 2nd NCAA First Round
1984–85 Auburn 22–12 8–10 7th NCAA Sweet Sixteen
1985–86 Auburn 22–11 13–5 2nd NCAA Elite Eight
1986–87 Auburn 18–13 9–9 5th NCAA Second Round
1987–88 Auburn 19–11 11–7 2nd NCAA Second Round
1988–89 Auburn 9–19 2–16 10th
Auburn: 173–154 (.529) 84–114 (.424)
VCU (Sun Belt Conference) (1989–1991)
1989–90 VCU 11–17 5–9 T–6th
1990–91 VCU 14–17 7–7 5th
VCU (Metro Conference) (1991–1995)
1991–92 VCU 14–15 5–7 T–5th
1992–93 VCU 20–10 7–5 3rd NIT First Round
1993–94 VCU 14–13 5–7 T–5th
1994–95 VCU 16–14 3–9 7th
VCU (Colonial Athletic Association) (1995–1998)
1995–96 VCU 24–9 14–2 1st NCAA First Round
1996–97 VCU 14–13 9–7 T–3rd
1997–98 VCU 9–19 4–12 9th
VCU: 136–127 (.517) 59–65 (.476)
Total: 339–304 (.527)

      National champion         Postseason invitational champion  
      Conference regular season champion         Conference regular season and conference tournament champion
      Division regular season champion       Division regular season and conference tournament champion
      Conference tournament champion


  1. ^ "Looking back: Where Auburn found its last five basketball coaches". Retrieved 2016-11-30. 
  2. ^ "SPORTS PEOPLE; Offer to Sonny Smith". The New York Times. 1985-03-26. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-11-30. 
  3. ^ "SPORTS PEOPLE; Change of Heart". The New York Times. 1985-03-19. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-11-30. 
  4. ^ "Sonny To Vcu". tribunedigital-orlandosentinel. Retrieved 2016-11-30. 
  5. ^ "Wimp Sanderson returns to radio with Matt Coulter on Birmingham's 97.3 The Zone". Retrieved 2016-11-30. 
  6. ^ "CSS to Broadcast Both Men's Basketball Games with UNF". Jacksonville University. 2013-10-01. Retrieved 2016-11-30.