The Tribune's Colleen Kane visits with Simeon coach Robert Smith and speculates on the possibility that the coach might be leaving after his high school basketball team ends its season.

If Robert Smith has his way, he one day soon will leave Simeon and the program that changed his life and the Chicago basketball scene.

For what he hopes is seven more games, the program is still his.

The 41-year-old coach of five state championship teams and a 252-40 record walked through the Simeon hallways Thursday, calling out greetings to students, peeking his head through doorways to speak with teachers and pointing out academic facilities with pride.

He said he loves going every day to Simeon, where he first arrived more than 25 years ago off a Chicago city bus from the LeClaire Courts housing project. But he wonders whether a day like Thursday should be one of his last.

"At this point, my thing is I might be getting too big for this. I have to sit down and evaluate," Smith said. "…When I started here as the varsity coach, I wanted to put this place back on the map and make it a national program, which I thought it should be. Then I wanted to have the most state championships, coaching-wise.

"After that, it's like you can keep winning, you can get close to winning them, but you need a new challenge. A challenge would be to see if I can be successful on the next level."

The disciplinarian

Smith began his day with a commotion.

His office is a room inside a classroom. The walls are decorated with a poster of Derrick Rose, a collage of basketball camp photos, a personalized license plate from Jesse White — and, as a focal point, a photo of Smith wearing a state championship medal with his now-7-year-old daughter, Yahri.

His morning was a jumble of tasks from his roles as dean of students, coach and father.

He scribbled notes and diagrams as Marist game film played on his computer. He talked cartoons with his 1-year-old son, known as Little Rob, on the phone. He reviewed disciplinary slips as troubled students waited in desks in the classroom for detentions to be over or parents to arrive.

One girl tried to escape, bolting down the hallway before a group of adults descended, a security guard picked her up and Smith instructed she be carried to the main office.

Smith never imagined he would be working as a dean in a school, but he first went to Simeon for the discipline and structure he now seeks to provide.

His parents separated when he was 12. When he was 14, his father, Robert Gates, moved to Mississippi, and they lost contact for more than 15 years.

Smith has since talked to his father a couple of times. He said he doesn't hold a grudge, would still hug him and say he loved him if Gates walked into his office today. But Smith acknowledged his family struggled compared to others he saw.

Sharon Smith also was a tough disciplinarian and worked at a telephone company to provide for her five children. She couldn't provide a male influence for her four sons, so she sent them to LeClaire Park for youth programs. A worker there pointed Smith, the family's basketball player, toward Simeon and coach Bob Hambric.

His siblings went to neighborhood schools, but Smith rose early to catch two city buses to Simeon, where he "didn't know a soul."

"Now that I'm older and I'm around kids all the time, young men do need a male to help raise them," Smith said. "A mother can only do so much because she's a female. … (The park district worker) knew what was going to help me become a better person. That was Coach Hambric."

The manager of young men

Smith and Jabari Parker rolled toward the Chicago skyline in Smith's car on their way to Thursday's press event for the weekend's City-Suburban Showdown.