After turmoil, Goldsmith back in game

Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2001

FRANKLIN, N.C. (AP) -- The walls bear no pennants, pictures or plaques to mark his well-traveled past. It's as though he's always been here.

The only keepsake Fred Goldsmith brought to his office at Franklin High School is a painting that was over his desks at Duke and Rice. The picture shows eagles soaring over a mountain and contains a reference to a Bible verse promising that God will renew the strength of his people to overcome adversity.

Three years have passed since Goldsmith was fired by Duke, where his football coaching tenure included a discrimination lawsuit filed against the school by a female kicker.

Now at Franklin High, the 57-year-old Goldsmith is rediscovering his passion for coaching.

The Panthers, in a mountain community of 3,000 nestled in the Nantahala National Forest, are 9-1 and headed to the Class 3-A state playoffs.

''When the air turns cool up here ... and you're out there on that practice field preparing to play for a conference championship, the game of football is the same as if you were playing for a bowl game,'' Goldsmith said. ''It means just as much to the players. It means just as much to the coaches.

''I'm sitting here working just as hard right now as I would if I was getting ready to play Carolina or Texas or anybody.''

In 1994, Goldsmith's first season at Duke, the Blue Devils were 8-4 and got a bowl bid. He won national coach of the year honors.

Four years later, Goldsmith had a 17-39 record and was out of a job. In his last season, Duke was 4-7.

Making matters worse was the lawsuit from Heather Sue Mercer, who claimed Goldsmith let her join the team in 1995, but treated her differently than the male players -- refusing to allow her to dress for practice or stand on the sidelines at games -- and ultimately cut her.

''I went out of my way to be nice to her and look what happened,'' Goldsmith said. ''Like I said back then, if she could've kicked a field goal to beat Carolina, she'd have been the first one out there kicking.''

In October 2000, a jury awarded Mercer only $1 in compensatory damages, but $2 million in punitive damages.

Duke appealed the $2 million award, saying sex discrimination law doesn't include punitive damages. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., is expected to rule some time in the coming months.

Goldsmith's departure from Duke left him soured on football. He and his wife, Pam, sold their Durham home in 1999, and moved to their vacation home in Franklin, where Pam Goldsmith had grown up.

Goldsmith played golf and enjoyed walks around town, but he wouldn't watch football on television or read game stories in the newspaper. His fix came from working as a radio commentator for Western Carolina football games.

It was the first time since before the 1964 season -- when he worked as an assistant coach at Coral Gables High School while an undergraduate at Florida -- that Goldsmith was not on the sidelines. He coached at four high schools, Arkansas, Florida A&M, Air Force and Slippery Rock State before heading to Rice in 1989.

Eventually, he got back on the field because Franklin was looking for a new football coach. Goldsmith needed only two interviews to land the job, then earned his certification to teach social studies.

It took some time for the players to get used to his style, which included watching plenty of game film.

''At the beginning of the year, some people were a bit frustrated because of how he treated us,'' junior quarterback Clay Wyatt said. ''He didn't treat us like high school players; he treated us more like college players. He expected more out of us and we've grown to love him for that.''

Franklin has won nine straight games since losing 14-13 to 1-A power Murphy in the season opener.

Against Asheville on Sept. 21, Franklin faced a fourth-and-5 near midfield in the fourth quarter. Instead of punting, the Panthers ran a play-action pass and got the first down.

''That's the kind of confidence he's got in those kids and it's spilled over to the team,'' Asheville coach Danny Wilkins said. ''I've been part of that kind of thing before and, once you get it going, the snowball just gets rolling and rolling, and the kids start believing in what they're doing and themselves.''

This is what Goldsmith has wanted for so long: a chance to be a coach again -- and enjoy it.

''Most days I still feel I'm awful young,'' he said. ''I've got the same energy out there coaching. I'll get down and dirty to show a player how to take on a block. I'm intense. I haven't lost that part of it.''

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