AUBURN — Steve Smith knows how to win football games. He has won a lot of them.
Including 11 seasons as a head coach at Cedar Bluff and 13 more at Piedmont, he has won 232 games. As an aside, that's exactly the same number of games Paul "Bear" Bryant won in 25 seasons at Alabama. No comment there, just noticing a coincidence.
Smith has coached teams to the state quarterfinals 13 times, the semifinals six times, the finals four times, and three state championships.
Smith knows how to lose, too, and that's meant as a big compliment, although it may not immediately sound like one.
Leading teams to bunches of wins say plenty about his ability to coach football and manage a team, but in those instances in which Smith loses, he reveals his character.
His Piedmont team reached the state's biggest high school stage Thursday, but the Bulldogs lost 23-12 to upstart Flomaton, despite leading 12-9 at one point in the third quarter.
After the game was when Smith was at his best Thursday.
The AHSAA has a process for how it conducts its postgame ceremonies after state championship events, and for football, it includes each coach receiving a souvenir football. The AHSAA does the same in basketball, and it never looks like an easy moment for a coach whose team just lost in the state finals.
I keep waiting for a frustrated football or basketball coach to step back and punt that ball into the upper deck.
If anyone does that, it won't be Smith. He smiled and shook hands. He did the same when he accepted the state runner-up trophy.
He never looked like he was eager to get off the field and head to the bus. He didn't rush the moment. Maybe he really does value that football, but if he just wanted to skip the whole postgame ceremony and get busy loading up the bus, he never gave a hint.
He teaches his players how to win, but in that moment, he showed them how to lose with grace.
He did the same in the postgame news conference. Given the chance to make an opening statement, he found the right words for the occasion. He didn't dwell on the disappointment, and instead focused on the joy of having made it this far. He didn't forget to pay respect to the winning team.
"To say I'm happy to be here," he began, with me wondering for just a fraction of a moment if we were about to get a speech about there are no moral victories in football.
He didn't go that way, finishing the sentence, "is an understatement."
"The outcome today was not what we had hoped for," he said. "It was not what we planned on. Our team this year has overcome so many things. To get to the finals and play for a state championship and represent our school, our community, our families, our part of the state in a state championship. (We) came up a little short today. But I can't say enough good things about our guys."
Then he stopped and said, "Also, I'd like to pause and give credit where it's due to Flomaton." He followed with plenty of good words about the winning team.
After the news conference, he engaged in conversation about how coaches were allowed to challenge officials' calls and ask for a video review. Smith said he wasn't a big fan of that, and it was for a human reason — it's not fair to show up high school referees like that.
The AHSAA wants its coaches to show good sportsmanship and serve as good examples for their schools and communities. Almost everyone does, if for no other reason than they'll have to face consequences if they don't.
So, we see a lot of coaches go through the motions. On Thursday with the eyes of his school, community and all of high school football on him, Smith did more than go through the motions.