Jim Smith: Ex-Derby County, Oxford United & Portsmouth boss dies, aged 79
Former Derby County, Oxford United and Portsmouth boss Jim Smith has died at the age of 79.
Smith, known throughout football as the ‘Bald Eagle’, managed nine different clubs across the leagues.
Among his career highlights were a League Cup final appearance with Queens Park Rangers in 1986 and promotion to the Premier League with Derby in 1996.
“Jim had fought illness with his usual bravery for some time,”Â said Oxford in a statement.
“Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time.”
Although Sheffield-born Smith’s playing career was mostly spent in the lower leagues, it was in management in which he really established a reputation.
No-nonsense, direct and a motivator of players, the roll call of talent that he helped produce, sign or nurture is a remarkable one.
John Aldridge and Darren Anderton were both signed by top clubs after progressing under his management, while Derby’s Croatian Igor Stimac showed his eye for a signing.
He was a master of promotions, helping Colchester United and Birmingham City to climb divisions before transforming Oxford into a top-flight side featuring the talents of Trevor Hebberd, Kevin Brock and Aldridge.
Although a stint at Newcastle failed to produce the same success he had enjoyed elsewhere, he guided second-tier Portsmouth to an FA Cup semi-final in 1992 before missing out on promotion through the play-offs.
Smith was extremely popular at Derby, helping them into the top flight and establishing them there, as well as unearthing stars such as Stimac, Aliosa Asanovic and Paulo Wanchope for modest sums.
His exit from Pride Park after three seasons of progression was followed by assistant manager spells at Coventry City, Portsmouth and Southampton, before a return to Oxford in 2007, with whom he finished his 38-year career in management.
‘A leader in the truest sense’
Ex-Derby striker Marco Gabbiadini, part of the Rams side promoted to the Premier League, described Smith as “one of the great characters”.
“When I worked with him, he was up on the cutting edge of coaching,” Gabbiadini told BBC Newcastle. “He’d go off and spend time away with clubs like Milan and see what they were up to.”
“He was a very popular guy. I had huge respect for Jim.”
League Managers Association chairman, and former Leeds United boss, Howard Wilkinson added: “I have so many fond memories of Jim as a football manager but foremost as a friend.
“Jim and I have known each other since our teenage years, and I have been in his debt since the day he asked me to become player-coach at Boston United, where I served my apprenticeship.
“He was intelligent, passionate, determined, honest and always great fun to be with. Never one to mince his words, he was a leader in the truest sense.”