Jim Smith, one of football's most respected and well-liked personalities, marked 25 years in League management in 1998. The no-nonsense Yorkshireman celebrated the milestone in the top flight, in the hot seat with Derby County, the club he joined in June 1995 after giving up his role as chief executive of the League Manager's Association. An initial two-year contract with the Rams was extended after he guided them to promotion to the Premiership in his first season.
He is no stranger to success under difficult circumstances having guided Colchester to promotion from the old Fourth Division in 1974, and then taking Birmingham City into Division One in 1980. Highlights of his career include his days at the Manor Ground when Oxford were crowned as champions in successive seasons in the mid-80s as they stormed their way out of the old Third Division into the top flight.
A League Cup losers medal followed in 1986 with Queens Park Rangers as Smith's side were ironically beaten 3-0 by Oxford, just one season after he had left the club to take over at Loftus Road. When the former Sheffield United, Aldershot, Halifax Town and Lincoln City player moved on to Portsmouth in 1991, he came within a whisker of taking the south coast side into the Premiership in his second season in charge.
Portsmouth missed out on promotion by one goal, having been pipped by West Ham, and then were beaten in the play-off semi-finals by Leicester City.Jim left Pompey after two rather disappointing seasons, which saw them finish just above the relegation zone. He was approached by the LMA to become the association's new chief executive, and he gladly accepted the responsibilty.
However, his time in the post was short-lived as he returned to management with Derby County in June 1995.He admitted at the time:
"Derby is a football club with a great tradition and deserves the sort of championship success which Brian Clough and Dave Mackay brought to the club. Like them, I believe in winning with quality and style. I would not have given up my position with the Managers' Association for any other club but Derby County. I had one or two other offers, but I was in a position to be selective and for me, Derby was the one."
In his first season at the Baseball Ground, with some wily wheeling and dealing in the transfer market, he swiftly guided Derby back into the top flight after a five-year absence. He succeeded in bringing a number of talented foreigners to the Premiership including Stimac, Asanovic, Laursen, Wanchope, Eranio and ex-Manchester City star Georgi Kinkladze. Having moved to Pride Park in 1997, Derby finished a respectable 10th in the table and achieved 8th position in 1998/99, narrowly missing out on a place in Europe.
Jim oversaw the development of a a number of young players in the ranks of Derby's Academy, many of whom made it into the first team during his six years in charge, including England under-21 international Seth Johnson and promising youngster Rory Delap who was later sold to Southampton.
Jim's excellent assistant Steve McClaren, recognized as one the best coaches in English football, left the club in the middle of the 1998/99 season to replace Brian Kidd at Manchester United, also becoming involved in the England set-up towards the end of 2000. Following a poor run of form the following season and a difficult start to 2000/2001, the ‘Bald Eagle' drafted in Colin Todd to assist him. It was a move that seemed to give The Rams more solidity in defence and helped them move off the bottom of the table. The team managed to survive their relegation battle with a 1-1 draw against Champions Manchester United ensuring the preservation of their top-flight status but another poor start to the league campaign the following season led to Smith's departure from Pride Park on October 8 2001.
Smith helped fellow Hall of Fame and 1000 club member Harry Redknapp win the Division One title with Portsmouth and was also his assistant at Southampton. Smith returned Oxford United in 2006 as manager for the second time, and was also given a seat on the board of directors where he remains today.