Michigan high school coaching legend Smokey Boyd dies

For Michigan’s high school basketball and football community, Leo “Smokey” Boyd is a legend.

For his players, he was only a “coach”.

“It’s funny, but even now I don’t call him Smokey or anything,” Saginaw Nouvel assistant football coach Greg Meter said. “He was always just a coach for me and his players.”

Boyd died Thursday, nine days after the death of his wife of 71 years, Betty Boyd. They were 91 years old.

“Betty was something special,” Meter said. “Being married at 71 is something special. Other than my dad, Coach was the greatest man I’ve ever known. And Betty was there with him the whole ride. And it wasn’t just around from the football field. Sometimes we would go to his house when they lived in the bay (Saginaw) and we would just chew the grease, we would have fun.

“He was just a great, great man and a great, great coach.”

Retired coach Leo ‘Smokey’ Boyd, 78, of Kawkawlin, sits in the stands with his wife, Betty, waiting for the New Catholic Central High School varsity volleyball team to play in a game playoff at Montrose High School on Tuesday night. (Chris Fryer | MLive.com file)

Boyd has reached the 300 win mark in men’s basketball and soccer. He was the first high school football coach in the state to win 300 games, reaching the milestone in 1997. He finished with a football record of 308-111-4 in Standish-Sterling, SS. Peter and Paul, with a men’s basketball record of 384-226 at St. Pete’s and Bay City Central.

Boyd graduated from SS. Peter and Paul in 1949, where he played basketball and football. He played halfback and linebacker on the 1952 Michigan State National Championship football team under Biggie Munn. After coaching a year of football at Standish-Sterling, Boyd served in the army from 1954 to 1956.

Back in Saginaw, he took over the SS. Peter and Paul’s football program, adding men’s basketball and track to his coaching resume. His 308 football wins are the most in Saginaw County history.

He coached the St. Pete’s boys’ basketball team which reached the state finals in 1977 and 1978. After St. Pete’s, St. Stephen’s and St. Mary’s merged to form Nouvel, Boyd led the football team to the state finals in 1987. Boyd also coached the track at Nouvel, leading the team to the Class C state title in 1989.

“I was (Boyd’s grandson) Trent Boyd’s best friend growing up, so I met Smokey when I was in kindergarten…we used to go to their house every Sunday,” the coach said. New Drew Weigl football. “I wasn’t very afraid of him like the others because he was more of a grandfather figure to me. I’ve heard all the stories though.

Meter heard them and lived them.

“He had this rough, gruff exterior, and that’s what people saw,” Meter said. “But he loved those kids, and they loved him. He would do anything for them, and they would do anything for him. When you get that chemistry between a player and a coach, great things can happen. .

“He was tough. He challenged the children. That’s what the kids wanted back then, and deep down I still believe they want it now. They want challenge. They want structure. They want discipline. They want to learn leadership. This all happened with Coach. He was attached to his children. They understood it and they committed themselves to it.


Nouvel coach Smokey Boyd cheers on his side, including number 61 Zach Graham, after a Nouvel Catholic Central score. (Steve Jessmore | MLive.com file)SAGINAW NEWS

After the 1999 season, Boyd retired, leaving the head coaching reins to his son, Mike Boyd.

“Smokey Boyd is a mainstay in the Nouvel community,” Weigl said. “He built the Nouvel program. He made culture what it is today. Once retired, he was not involved in coaching. I think he knew he had to give Mike space to be his own coach. But he parked in the parking lot near the softball field and watched games when Mike practiced. He even watched a few games from there when I was a coach.

Before Meter coached Boyd, he competed against him. Meter played basketball and football for St. Stephen’s when Boyd coached at St. Pete’s.

“After I graduated and started playing football in Dayton, I came back to Saginaw and a bunch of us were going to St. Pete’s and playing basketball,” Meter said. “The coach would be there. He took me aside and really encouraged me about Dayton. It meant a lot to me. He loved kids, and it showed when you were with him.

Meter was an assistant coach at St. Stephen’s in 1982 and 1983 before the schools merged in 1984 to form Nouvel. In 1987, Boyd asked Meter to join Nouvel’s coaching staff.

“My first year with him, I was young and full of energy,” Meter said. “I was a bouncy ball. We were in pads and we were practicing, and I’m standing next to Coach. There was this undersized kid who came in and really hit somebody, just a tackle from nice form. I’m off like a wild animal, howling at the kid. ‘Great tackle. Great tackle.

“The coach comes up to me and says, ‘Calm down. It’s okay.’ Can you believe it? Smokey Boyd tells me to calm down.

Undersized players, however, have become a staple of the Nouvel program.

“He really believed it wasn’t the size of the dog in the fight, it was the size of the fight in the dog,” Meter said. “He instilled that. We had this group chaos approach. That’s why it was so fun to play for him.

“He was the first football coach in the state to reach 300 wins. His record speaks for itself. It has to be because Coach would turn away anyone congratulating him. He was one of the most humble guys you can meet. He wasn’t looking for recognition. It was almost uncomfortable when he got it. His philosophy was simple. “I do what I think I should and can do.” That was the end, whether people like it or not.

Boyd has been inducted into the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Michigan Football Coaches Hall of Fame, Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame, Saginaw Catholic Hall of Fame, and Saginaw County Sports Hall of Fame.

“There was never a hidden agenda,” Meter said. “Everything was right in front of you with him. He never tried to be anything other than himself.

Leo and Betty Boyd

Leo “Smokey” Boyd and his wife, Betty, spend a quiet evening at home in 1975. (MLive.com file)SAGINAW NEWS

A celebration of life for Smokey and Betty Boyd will be scheduled for a later date. Those wishing to express sympathy may consider memorials to the Boyd Scholarship Fund of the St. Gerard Society (stgerardsociety.org).

“He had this big, big faith,” Meter said. “Both had this incredible faith, and it showed. It always stood out for him and Betty.

Smokey and Betty Boyd leave behind two sons, Chris and Mike Boyd, and five grandchildren – Travis Boyd, Trisha Daniels, Trent Boyd, Alexandria Tew and Taylor Peace – with eight great-grandchildren.


The Boyd family “honored and honoured” by the Saginaw Nouvel scholarship

Smokey Boyd enjoys a family reunion at the Saginaw County Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony

Saginaw Nouvel’s Mike Boyd joins his father in the Michigan Football Coaches Hall of Fame

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