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The Carson College is committed to the importance and tradition of supporting endowed chairs and distinguished professorships that recognize and foster academic excellence among its faculty. Endowed chairs and professorships are reserved for distinguished scholars and teachers. An endowed chair or professorship provides funds to a faculty member in support of their teaching, research, and service, and is supported by payout from an endowment fund.

To support an endowed chair or professorship or for more information, please contact Jeff Pilcher, director of development, at jeff.pilcher@wsu.edu or 509-335-8906.

Don Smith Distinguished Professorship

The “Coach” makes the difference

Please join us in supporting the Don Smith Distinguished Professorship in Hospitality Business Management. This position honors Professor Emeritus Don Smith—known affectionately by his colleagues and students as “the Coach.” As a professor and mentor at Washington State University and in every other chapter of his career, the Coach made a positive difference in countless lives. Don Smith inspired all who knew him to strive to achieve their best. His irrepressible energy, unflagging optimism, and passion for excellence made him one of the most beloved professors in the history of the School of Hospitality Business Management. The appointment of a faculty member to a Distinguished Professorship is the highest honor that the university can bestow. It recognizes extraordinary scholarly achievement in a discipline, national stature in the field, and distinctive contributions to the University community. The Don Smith Distinguished Professorship will support a faculty member who most embodies the spirit of the Coach: an outstanding teacher, strong mentor, and accomplished industry professional. Your contribution will help ensure that Don’s legacy endures at Washington State University.

About Don Smith

Once or twice in a lifetime, you may cross paths with an individual whose influence creates a lasting impression that guides you for the rest of your life. In every effort he undertook, Coach Don Smith motivated students and colleagues to achieve the highest conceivable standard of academic and business performance.

Independent restaurateur

Don earned a bachelor of science in education and a master’s in education from the University of Illinois, where he was an  all-conference guard. He left a successful eight-year career as a winning high school football coach to manage a failed restaurant in the Chicago countryside. Under his stewardship and ultimate ownership, the award-winning Chateau Louise became the Chicago area’s eighth largest restaurant in sales. By the early 1970s the Chateau was grossing today’s equivalent of $9 million dollars annually.

Restaurant chain executive

Don sold the Chateau to Gaslight Clubs Inc. in 1973 and went on to become director of new ventures for Kentucky Fried Chicken. In 1980 he accepted the presidency of Shakey’s lnternational, where his team engineered the first profitable season the company had experienced in a decade.

Distinguished professor

In the mid 1980s Don returned to his first love: teaching. At Washington State University he held two distinguished professorships, first as the Westin professor and then the Taco Bell professor. In 1995 the university named its annual chain restaurant conference in his honor. Don retired in 2000.

Hospitality industry leader

Don has been an avid supporter and speaker for the National Restaurant Association (NRA), Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators (MUFSO), Club Managers Association of America (CMAA), American Hotel & Motel Association (AH&MA), and numerous educational institutions. He was vice president of the Chicago Illinois Restaurant Association. In 1992 the NRA recognized Don with the coveted Diplomate Award. This year it honored him with the Michel E. Hurst Lifetime Achievement in Education Award for his contribution to the hospitality industry.

Award-winning manager, teacher and scholar

Included among Don’s many accolades are Restaurant and Institution magazine’s Ivy Award for the Chateau Louise (1972) and Michigan State University’s Teacher of the Year (1983). In his ten years at Washington State University, he was twice honored with the Shell Award for Teaching Excellence. He has authored three books and countless publications; been recog­nized by Time, People, and Business Week magazines; and been a featured guest on numerous radio and television interview programs, including Nightwatch and Seattle’s King TV.

Tireless educator and consultant to the industry

Today Don and Jackie, his wife of 64 years (who argues that he flunked retirement), continue to work their 175-acre ranch in Anderson, Texas. Don serves on the faculty of Washington State University and the Hilton College of Hospitality, where he is also an advisory board member. He is a Walter Conti Professor at Penn State University. He speaks and consults for companies all over the world. A few of the organizations for which he has worked in­clude K.F.C., Harman Management, Sysco Food Service, Marriott, Gallup, Potlatch, Sam’s Club, Chemical Bank, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Long John Silvers, Levy Restaurants, the Holiday Inn Corporation, and numerous state and national trade associations.

Stories of how “the Coach” made a difference

Chris Burdett

(’90, Washington State University) Senior Vice President, CBRE Hotels

Looking back, I realize that during my short time in class, [Coach Smith] fundamentally changed my direction in life. His way of engaging students made me truly want to be better in all that I do. For the first time, he made me want to be part of something bigger than just myself. His tools, rules, and sayings still underlie the principles of daily life, not just for me, but for those I’ve been fortunate enough to share them with. I am honored to have had the privilege of learning from him. I wish wholeheartedly to help continue his legacy and his gift of education and enlightenment for years to come.

Susie Cantor

(’78, Michigan State University) Owner, Radiant Hospitality

Don introduced [my husband and me] to some of his consulting clients. The most memorable project was working with a restaurant crew and teaching them how to provide service that sells versus being order-takers. Don convinced me that the best way to teach them was to challenge them to a “showdown.” It was me, “the vegetarian gourmet” versus the entire “Mr. Steak” staff in a multidimensional sales contest. Their challenge was to beat me in selling drinks, appetizers, desserts, and my overall check average. I must have gotten my job done, as I was only victorious in one category. It was the scariest and best advice I’d ever gotten. Working with Don was always exhilarating. He’s the true embodiment of a consummate coach: one who passionately stands for bringing out the best in others and risking it all to be your best self—the self you didn’t even know was possible.

Kevin Clary

(’93, Washington State University) Owner, The Breakfast Club (Moscow, Idaho) and Birch & Barley (Pullman, Wash.)

My first day in class with Coach Don Smith set me on a new course that led to where I am in life today. During my junior year of college, I transferred to WSU, and one of my first classes was Hotel and Restaurant Administration 181. I wore my typical college gear—jeans, t-shirt, and baseball hat. Not knowing anyone, I chose a seat in the back of the class. Within minutes, Coach grabbed my full attention. He urged us to be our best in class and not sit passively in the back, watching the clock. I had never seen anyone with the presence that Coach brought to the classroom. I moved to the front, took off my hat (as required), and even started participating in class discussions, which I had never done before. I looked forward to his class each day, and while I didn’t know it at the time, Coach had begun to inspire the hidden leader inside of me.

Gabe Lyons

(’87, Washington State University), Control room operator, URS Energy & Construction Inc. (retired)

I have very fond memories of Don Smith. I remember him as a very dynamic, focused, energetic businessman, and the only professor I know who could convince his students to get out of bed and be in his class at 6:00 a.m. for extra curricular work. He’d stamp his foot whenever he had a major point to make (it was going to be on the test), and it was fun participating in his real-world simulations at various fast-food restaurants in Pullman. Most of all, I remember a phrase that has stuck with me all these years and one that has served me well: “Perception is reality.” Without a doubt, Coach was the best teacher I ever had.

Julie (Lund) Mineard

(’95 Washington State University) Registered Senior Client Associate, Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. HW Group 

A week doesn’t go by that I don’t think about Coach. He made such an impact on my life. When my parents came to class with me to meet this amazing professor, I couldn’t stop talking about how he greeted them so warmly and even wrote them a note after they left town. I have instilled in my step kids and daughter that thank you notes are a must and all that goes with why notes are important. His enthusiasm in class and love for the subject matter really made you think “I want to love my job this much!”

Nancy Swanger

(’83, ’95, ’98, University of Idaho) Director, WSU School of Hospitality Business Management

The year was 1985. I was managing a TacoTime restaurant in Pullman, Washington. My employees were taking care of our customers—no big deal, nothing out of the norm. Little did we know, a class from WSU was visiting our restaurant, causing chaos, sometimes at the most inopportune times, and reporting about it. We had no clue it was even happening, nor that it was on purpose, until it was all over. To whom were they reporting? To a maniac the students reverently referred to as “Coach.” The “Coach,” I soon learned, was Don Smith. He was teaching a class on multi-unit restaurant management in the WSU hospitality program and invited me to talk about what was happening in my restaurant. At the time, I didn’t know that meeting Don Smith would forever change my life. Long story short, I left the industry and have been an academic for the past 20 years—because Don Smith said this is where I belong. While I absolutely loved running restaurants, I have never looked back. He saw something in me that I did not see in myself, just as he did in many others fortunate enough to cross his path. My parents taught me about honesty, integrity, and working hard to get ahead. My husband taught me to love unconditionally. Ken King, my TacoTime boss, taught me what it means to truly be of service to others. Don Smith taught me to be my best self every day, in every way, in every relationship. I truly love this man and, indeed, the “Coach” makes the difference!

Tell your story about Don Smith

If Coach had a positive impact on your life, consider sharing your personal story and/or photos with others in the Carson College of Business by emailing raegan.harvey@wsu.edu. In addition, please share news of this distinguished professorship within your Coug network.

Give now

A Letter from Don Smith

Written March 2014

DonSmith
Feb. 4, 1929 – Nov. 29, 2016

There is no way I could have imagined the journey I was about to take coming to Washington State University… NO WAY!

My wife of 64 years and I have experienced exciting lives, lived in five states, built seven homes and worked in half a dozen countries. In 60 years, my business cards have read football coach, restaurateur, university administrator, CEO of a public company and even town Santa Claus. However, being a WSU professor was the capstone of it all.

WSU provided me the opportunity to hone my craft. I truly believe teaching is what I was meant to do, and I became a good teacher. I have jested about the classroom being my church. However, besides knowledge, teachers pass on beliefs and values often threatened in today’s world. I am talking about self-reliance, commitment, hard work and following their dreams.

WSU gave me the opportunity to learn how far these wonderful “kids” would go if a teacher really cared about them as individuals. Those Project Hospitality and 6:27 a.m. senior classes didn’t only teach business, they taught them LIFE.

I owe a debt of gratitude to all those industry leaders who learned there was a Pullman, Washington, who came to our small community to share their stories with our students. In that “church,” we heard gospels from Herman Caine, Pete Harman, John Martin, and Charles Bernstein, and one of the most effective restaurateurs I have come to know, our own Nancy Swanger.

I have tried to understand how a high school football coach with a master’s degree in off-tackle plays is offered such an honor. I can’t. Perhaps John Michael Montgomery’s bit of wisdom explains it all:

Life’s a dance you learn as you go.

Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow.

Don’t worry about what you don’t know,

Life’s a dance you learn as you go.

—Don Smith
Professor Emeritus, WSU School of Hospitality Business Management

Washington State University