HARRISBURG — Longtime Harrisburg High School boys basketball coach Randy Smithpeters has resigned his position after devoting nearly 30 years of his life to the Bulldogs.
Smithpeters said he arrived at his decision after much soul searching. He read a letter to the Harrisburg School Board Tuesday evening, citing what he believes to be a distinct lack of respect from four specific board members for the work that he has done over the decades. He did not publicly identify the board members.
"This isn't the way I wanted to go out. I love coaching basketball and I have loved coaching in Harrisburg. There are a lot of wonderful people here," Smithpeters said. "But my family and I were really bothered by the disrespect shown me by these four board members.
"The tipping point came this morning (Tuesday). I called the superintendent to confirm my spot on the agenda at the board meeting. I wanted to talk to the board under public comments. I was told that it might upset a couple of those board members - that if I said anything they might call a special board meeting and fire me. Some of my most trusted and wise advisors individually asked me the same question...'Is it all worth it?' At this point, it is not."
Smithpeters, who took over the head coaching reins in 1993, put together a record of 517-321 in his 29 seasons with the Bulldogs. His teams won 20 games or more a stunning 13 times in that time span and close to 20 wins several more times.
He presided over four River-to-River Conference championships; 12 regional titles; four Sweet 16 appearances; and one state championship (2013). His Harrisburg teams also won four Eldorado Holiday Tournament titles and 10 Carmi White County championships.
Moreover, he was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2017 and the Southern Illinois Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2019. He has also been District IBCA Coach of the Year.
Smithpeters, a 1974 graduate of SIUC, began his coaching career at McLeansboro High School, first as a volunteer coach and then later as a freshman and junior varsity team coach for the Foxes under Hall of Fame coaches David Lee and Curt Reed. He interviewed for the head coaching vacancy at Herrin before the 1993-94 school year, and when he didn't get that job, readily accepted the head coaching job at Harrisburg.
Having recently retired as a school administrator, Smithpeters was required by the Teachers Retirement System to resign his coaching position before being allowed to reapply. He did reapply and was forced to submit to an interview for the job that he had held for so long. He was eventually rehired by the board last Friday in a 5-0 vote, but Smithpeters never felt comfortable with the circumstances surrounding his rehire.
In his letter to the board, Smithpeters said, "When I came here in 1993, Harrisburg had not won a basketball regional tournament championship in 23 years. Beginning with my first year, we won six of the next eight regional titles, as well as going to Champaign my second year and went to the Super Sectional four of those first eight years. We were the 2013 state champs. I will let my record stand against anyone in Southern Illinois."
Harrisburg Athletic Director Greg Langley described Smithpeters as a "fierce competitor" as a coach and pointed out that not too many coaches have the longevity that he had as a coach.
"Randy will be tremendously missed. He is a Hall of Fame coach," Langley said. "He is someone who poured his heart and soul into his work."
Smithpeters praised his wife and family for all the support they have shown him over the years, sometimes putting up with "ugly comments directed at me or our kids that were playing."
Smithpeters also praised the work of his many assistant coaches over the years describing them as "dedicated, hardworking and knowledgeable."
He added that he has also benefited from so many great players who worked hard to become even better players in his program.
"The most important part of our program - what I am most proud of - is all the young men who have gone on to become productive citizens, business professionals, husbands and fathers," Smithpeters said. "They still love returning to Davenport Gym. That love is special."
Smithpeters told Superintendent Mike Gauch that he would draft a formal letter of resignation and email it to him soon.
Smithpeters, who was planning to address his players one final time Wednesday, said he isn't the type of coach to hang around after offering up his resignation. He said he doesn't plan to return to Davenport Gym anytime soon, if at all.
The board took action after Smithpeters' address, rescinding his hire last Friday and immediately posting the coaching vacancy.