A former defender, Smith had an unremarkable playing career, consisting of two spells with Dundee United which was split by a short time at Dumbarton. A pelvic injury meant he moved into coaching at Dundee United, working for manager Jim McLean, while he also took charge of the Scotland under-18 and under-21 teams. Smith was assistant to Alex Ferguson at the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico after it had been announced that he would be moving to Rangers as assistant to Graeme Souness.
Smith became the manager of Rangers in 1991, succeeding Souness. He won 13 major trophies in seven years, including seven league titles in succession. After leaving Rangers at the end of the 1997–98 season, he was appointed manager of Premier League club Everton. He was in charge at Goodison Park for four seasons before he was sacked in 2002.
Smith was appointed Scotland manager in December 2004, after a brief stint as assistant manager to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. He presided over a revival in the national team's fortunes, taking Scotland 70 places up the FIFA World Rankings. After a good start to UEFA Euro 2008 qualification, in January 2007 he resigned as Scotland manager to return to Rangers. He won eight trophies during his second spell as Rangers manager and guided the team to the 2008 UEFA Cup Final. Smith is the second-most successful manager in the history of Rangers, behind Bill Struth.
Smith was born in Lanark and grew up in the East End of Glasgow, and was a boyhood fan of Rangers. He was employed by the South of Scotland Electricity Board before launching his football career in the 1960s with Junior League team Ashfield.
Smith signed as a defender with Dundee United in 1966 and played in 108 league games scoring 2 goals between 1966 and 1975. He also featured in the Scottish Cup 1973–74 final against Celtic, playing alongside future assistant Archie Knox. In 1975 Smith was sold to Dumbarton for a fee of £7,000. He played in 44 league game for Dumbarton between 1975 and 1977.
At the age of 29, a pelvic injury threatened his career and he was invited to join the Dundee United coaching staff by Jim McLean as a player and coach. His first team appearances were limited thereafter, but he remained a signed player and his final club match was in September 1980. In his second spell he appeared in 26 league matches. In total, he made 178 senior appearances for Dundee United, scoring three goals.
He developed his coaching skills as assistant manager to Jim McLean, at a time when Dundee United were Scottish champions and European Cup semi-finalists. While working with McLean, a notoriously hard-bitten manager, Smith developed a reputation for being a strict disciplinarian. According to Kevin Gallacher, who was an apprentice of the club at the time in the early 1980s, Smith could become ferociously angry and was known to deal out punches to enforce discipline. He joined Dundee United's board of directors in 1986.
In 1978, he was appointed coach of the Scotland Under 18 team, and helped Scotland to win the European Youth Championship in 1982. He became coach of the Under 21 team, and was Alex Ferguson's assistant manager during the 1986 Mexico World Cup. Latterly Ferguson commented on Smith by saying: "There are few people in the game with his experience, knowledge and technical ability."
In April 1986, Graeme Souness was appointed player-manager of Rangers and Smith accepted his offer to become assistant. He helped Souness guide Rangers to Premier Division and League Cup glory in 1986-87, another League Cup in 1987-88, the Premier Division and League Cup again in 1988-89, a second successive league title in 1989-90 and another League Cup in 1990-91.
When Souness left for Liverpool in April 1991 Smith was appointed interim manager, which was made permanent in May 1991 after the club clinched its fourth title in five seasons. Seven successive league titles followed under Smith's tenure, including a domestic treble in 1992–93. He also won both the Scottish Cup and the League Cup three times each. Smith took Rangers to the brink of the Champions League final in season 1992/93, going ten games without defeat in that campaign.
Some of Smith's players like Ally McCoist and Paul Gascoigne became fan favourites. This was achieved at a cost, as Smith spent over £50m on transfer fees in his six years in charge – more than any other club in Scotland or England over the same period. Rangers equalled Celtic's record of nine successive championships in 1996–97. In an effort to secure a record-breaking tenth success in 1997–98, Rangers spent £13m on eight new players. In European competition, Rangers were beaten 4–2 by Strasbourg in the first round of the 1997–98 UEFA Cup and 4–1 by IFK Gothenburg in the 1997–98 UEFA Champions League preliminary round. It was announced in October 1997 that Smith was to retire after a period of domination of Scottish league football. Rangers lost the league title to Celtic on the final day and then lost the 1998 Scottish Cup Final to Hearts.
After success in his native Scotland, Smith's retirement lasted a month as he took the manager's job at Premier League club Everton in June 1998. Smith replaced Howard Kendall after his third spell as Everton manager, having only avoided relegation in 1998 due to their superior goal difference over Bolton Wanderers.
Initially Smith was linked with the managers job at Sheffield Wednesday, but false promises made to him by the Everton chairman of massive transfer funds and unlimited ambition lured Smith to Goodison Park. Smith spent money on players only to discover that it was money the club did not have. When Duncan Ferguson was sold behind Smith’s back, he was tempted to quit. The remainder of his time at Everton revolved around selling the club's top players to balance the books.
Under Smith, Everton finished in the bottom half of the table for three consecutive seasons. The Everton board finally ran out of patience with Smith and he was sacked in March 2002 after an "abject" 3–0 FA Cup Sixth Round defeat to Middlesbrough, with Everton in some danger of relegation from the Premier League. He was replaced by David Moyes, who delivered Everton to a safe finish in fifteenth place.
In March 2004, Smith returned to football when he had a short spell as assistant manager to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United at the end of the 2003–04 season. During this time Manchester United won the 2004 FA Cup Final, beating Millwall at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Smith was appointed manager of the Scottish national team on 2 December 2004, succeeding Berti Vogts. Despite a revival of fortunes under Smith, including a home draw with Italy and an away win against Norway, hopes of reaching the 2006 World Cup were ended by a 1–0 home defeat against Belarus.
Scotland's world ranking improved by seventy places during his tenure. Scotland recorded a famous victory against World Cup runners-up France in a UEFA Euro 2008 qualification match at Hampden and temporarily led their group by three points. A 2–0 defeat against Ukraine on 11 October 2006 was the first of the campaign.
On 5 January 2007, press outlets reported that Rangers had spoken to Smith with a view to hiring him to manage Rangers again, with Ally McCoist as assistant manager. The Scottish FA initially rebuffed Rangers' approach for Smith, but his return as Rangers manager was announced on 10 January 2007. He succeeded Paul Le Guen, who had left the club by mutual consent after Rangers had been knocked out of the 2006–07 Scottish League Cup by First Division side St Johnstone and fallen 17 points behind Celtic in the 2006–07 Scottish Premier League.
Smith's first match in his second spell at Ibrox was a 5–0 win against Dundee United on 13 January, with two goals from Kris Boyd and one each from Barry Ferguson, Chris Burke and Charlie Adam. Smith's first final since his return was secured with a 2–0 win over Hearts in the 2007–08 Scottish League Cup. Rangers played Dundee United in the final; the game was drawn 1–1 after normal time, and 2–2 after extra time. The winners were decided by penalty kicks. Rangers won 3–2, with Kris Boyd scoring the winning penalty (as well as the goals for Rangers in normal time and extra time).
In the UEFA Cup, Walter Smith booked Rangers' first European final for 36 years, after an exit in the UEFA Champions League group stage on the final day after good results against VFB Stuttgart, Olympique Lyonnais and FC Barcelona. In the quarter-final, after a 0–0 home draw with Sporting, Rangers went on to win the away leg 2–0. In the semi-final they drew 0–0 in both legs against Fiorentina and after extra time, they won 4–2 on penalties, taking Rangers to the UEFA Cup Final in Manchester, which they lost 0–2 to Zenit St. Petersburg.
In the 2008–09 UEFA Champions League second qualifying round, Rangers drew 0–0 with Lithuanian side FBK Kaunas at Ibrox on 30 July 2008 and lost the return leg 2–1. The loss against Kaunas meant Rangers made an early exit from European competition.Rangers went on to claim the SPL title – Rangers' 52nd Championship – on 24 May 2009. Smith followed this up with the Scottish Cup a week later to end the season with a League and Cup double.
In December 2009, it was revealed that Smith was to continue as Rangers manager without a contract when it expired the following month. In March 2010, he guided Rangers to win the League Cup after they had been reduced to nine men in the final.
On 25 April 2010, Smith led Rangers to their 53rd title and their second in a row after a 1–0 win away to Hibernian. On 25 May 2010, Smith signed a new one-year deal to continue as Rangers manager throughout the 2010–11 campaign, stating that it will be his last as Rangers manager. In this final season as manager, Smith led Rangers to a back-to-back domestic double, winning the League Cup as well as their 54th league championship, a world record, which was secured on the final day of the season, when Rangers overcame Kilmarnock at Rugby Park 5–1.
Rangers entered administration in February 2012. An attempt to take the club out of administration by means of a creditors voluntary arrangement was rejected by HM Revenue & Customs, the largest creditor, putting the club into liquidation in June 2012. The administrator, Duff & Phelps, sold the assets of Rangers to a consortium led by Charles Green. Smith said that he was leading a consortium offering a deal to buy the assets from Green, but this offer was withdrawn days later. On 11 November 2012, Smith returned to Ibrox taking on a role with the new Rangers company as a non-executive director. Smith was appointed non-executive chairman in May 2013, but he resigned from the board in August.As of 30 May 2011
Scottish Premier League (10): 1990–91, 1991–92, 1992–93, 1993–94, 1994–95, 1995–96, 1996–97, 2008–09, 2009–10, 2010–11
Scottish Cup (5): 1991–92, 1992–93, 1995–96, 2007–08, 2008–09
Scottish League Cup (6): 1992–93, 1993–94, 1996–97, 2007–08, 2009–10, 2010–11
Kirin Cup (1): 2006
Scottish Cup 1974 : Finalist
Scottish Premier League Manager of the Month (6): August 2007, January 2008, March 2008, April 2009, December 2009, August 2010
SPL Manager of the Year (2): 2007–08, 2009–10
SFWA Manager of the Year (7): 1991–92, 1992–93, 1993–94, 1995–96, 1996–97, 2007–08, 2009–10
PFA Scotland Manager of the Year (1): 2009–10