In a span of less than 72 hours, Craig Smith went from being called upon to coach against Baylor in the NCAA Tournament to taking over the South Dakota Coyotes men’s basketball program.
Smith, a Stephen, Minn., native and North Dakota alumnus, said he can hardly wait to take over a team that has failed to rack up many noteworthy achievements in the Summit League since joining in 2011.
“If every fiber in my bones didn’t want this job, I wouldn’t be here,” Smith said. “I’m truly excited to get to work.”
Athletic director David Herbster said the last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind, but he has the utmost confidence in the man he chose.
“We wanted a guy with experience and he has it,” Herbster said. “He’s shown the ability to turn programs around everywhere he’s been. (Craig) Smith understands the value of hard work and he really just has the sense of how to build a team.”
Herbster said Smith’s experience in the Midwest played into ultimately being chosen.
“That’s invaluable. Some people we talked to didn’t know anything about South Dakota and sometimes when you bring up the word Dakota to people they think you’re in the Wild, Wild West or we still travel in covered wagons,” Herbster said. “Things won’t be foreign to (Craig) and it’s not going to be a total culture shock for him.”
Smith got his 11 minutes of fame when, as his team’s season was coming to an end, Nebraska’s head coach Tim Miles was ejected after arguing with a series of calls made by the officials. Miles, who Smith called his mentor, said it was funny to think his final game on the bench for Nebraska was in a role he’d be hired to take over in the upcoming days.
“Coach (Miles) is my absolute mentor and I’m so grateful of getting the chance to learn from him,” Smith said. “He always has his reasons and maybe he got kicked out because he saw what was in store for me.”
Nebraska would go on to lose to Baylor 74-60.
Smith was the head coach at Mayville State in North Dakota from 2004-07. The year before he got there, the team went 1-27. He went on to win NAIA coach of the year honors in 2007 after leading the Comets to the NAIA national championship. Smith has also had stops at Northern State, Minot State and North Dakota State.
In 2007 he joined Miles at Colorado State, where he coached Yankton native Colton Iverson. From there he moved onto Nebraska, where he coached the Big Ten leading scorer Terran Petteway and led the Cornhuskers to an unexpected run into the NCAA Tournament.
After having success turning programs around in the past, Smith said he sees no reason why that script can’t be rewritten in Vermillion.
“We expect to get in the NCAA tournament next year,” Smith said.
Smith said the obvious goal is to win and everybody wants to do that. What’s just as important to him is making sure each player does well in school and improves as men.
Sophomore guard Casey Kasperbauer said that was refreshing to hear.
“He seems like a very energetic guy who really cares about his players and has turned every program he’s been to 180 degrees,” Kasperbauer said. “It’s really nice to hear and inspiring to hear that he wants to not only improve us as players, but as men.”
Smith will look to improve a team that has gone 32-56 in their first three seasons in the Summit League.