Transcript - Introductory Press Conference of Head Men's Basketball Coach Craig Smith
March 27, 2018

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President Noelle E. Cockett:

“What a great day for Aggie athletics. I am so happy that all of you, our supporters, our students, our university, are here to celebrate a very special day at Utah State University. This is the day that we are welcoming coach Smith and his family to the Aggie family, so welcome.

“I just noticed, though, we’re going to have to work on teaching the Scotsman. Just for clarification, we are not milking cows when we are doing this, that’s often a question we get.

“I had a chance to meet coach Smith and his wife, Darcy, and I can tell you they are going to bring incredible strength to Utah State. Their enthusiasm, their spirit and their ideals fit so well into what we are doing here. Our support of our student-athletes, quests for a winning record and just greatness of Utah State University. I’m very proud that we’ve made this happen for all of our Aggie supporters.

“With that, I’m going to turn over the time now to our Director of Athletics, John Hartwell. He’s going to tell us a little bit about the process, how we got here today and the introduction of coach Smith and his family. Thanks again, for celebrating this great event with us.”

Vice President and Director of Athletics John Hartwell:
“President Cockett and I didn’t compare notes before we started here, but I was going to start the same way: every day is a great day to be an Aggie, but today is an exceptional day to be a Utah State Aggie. I’m really, really excited, and it won’t take you all very long to see the juice and energy that coach Craig Smith is going to infuse, not just into our men’s basketball program, not just into our athletic department, but into our university and into Cache Valley, and that’s one of the things that I’m really, really excited about.



“As Noelle said, we started this process a little over two weeks ago. One of the things that, in my almost three years, that I continue to hear is ‘hey, we have to get the ‘Spectrum Magic’ back. We have to get the ‘Spectrum Magic’ back.’ We’ve seen glimpses of it over the last few years, but, as I’ve looked back at videos and tapes and heard many of you talk about what it really meant to have the ‘Spectrum Magic,’ I can’t wait for that to be there every night, and I really think that’s going to be there every night. It’s not about that building over there, it’s about a culture. It’s about a culture of over 100 years of history in our basketball program. It’s about over 1,600 wins. It’s about 20 NCAA Tournament appearances, nine NIT appearances, 16 conference championships, 28 All-Americans and six Player of the Year winners in our various conferences. That’s what the ‘Spectrum Magic’ is about, and I believe that we have found the person to take us there, not in peaks and valleys, not once every five or six years, but to get the consistency of the ‘Spectrum Magic’ back again.

“So, as we started this process, there were several characteristics that were really key as we looked at potential candidates: high character, high energy and charisma. You may say, ‘well, how do you define charisma?’ I don’t know that you can truly define charisma, but when you meet people that have ‘it,’ you know it. There was instant chemistry with Craig Smith in the in-person interview last week. Obviously, beyond those personal characteristics, there has to be basketball knowledge. Somebody who’s a proven recruiter. Someone who’s gone out and found talent. Not only finding talent, but developing talent. Player development is so key. So, from the time a young man steps into our program to the day he leaves, how much better has he gotten? Has he been challenged in the weight room, on the court, various places? And, ultimately, are they a team player? Is it about, and it is going to be about, the Utah State across the front of the jersey, and not the name across the back of the jersey? Because we are all in this together. This university, this institution is greater than any one individual. It’s about Utah State. He totally understands that.

“As I talked to people all over the country, people with high basketball IQ that I trust, this guy’s name kept coming up. As we literally went coast to coast and talked to a bunch of people, Craig Smith was the name that kept coming up. I’m going to divert just a minute from basketball, and read you an e-mail I got yesterday. I promise, over the last three weeks, boy, I’ve gotten plenty of advice, good and bad, about what I should do, or what we need to do or what I didn’t do. Believe me, I read every one of those emails. But here’s one that I got yesterday that goes beyond the basketball components. If you’ll pardon me for just a few minutes, I want to read this to you:

“This is from a Rick Willemssen from the booming metropolis, and I actually had to get out my map to see where this is, from the booming metropolis of Tea, South Dakota.

“’Mr. Hartwell, good afternoon. My name is Rick Willemssen. I’m a middle school teacher and high school basketball coach in Tea, South Dakota, about an hour from USD. I just want to let you know that your hire of coach Smith will be one that your fans and student-athletes will love. I’ve only talked to Craig two or three times, but the impact that he has on people, his team and the community is amazing. Last year, Craig was watching his son at a basketball tournament in Souix Falls, South Dakota, and my son was playing in the tournament as well. My 12-year-old son, being a huge USD Coyote fan, was excited to see coach, and took a picture of him. When Craig saw him do this, he waited a few minutes and then he crept up upon my son and asked if he wanted to take a picture with him. Craig then visited with my son for a few minutes about basketball, school, etc., that totally blew my son away. A few months later, my son received a package from USD basketball with a t-shirt and hand-written note thanking him for visiting with him and being a supporter of the Coyotes. Our family has been even bigger fans since that day. This is the type of guy that you are getting. I think USU will be getting a family of fans from Tea, South Dakota, as well as other Coyote followers. Time for us to buy some Aggie gear. Thanks for your time, Rick Willemssen.’

“That is just an unsolicited snapshot of the character and integrity of Craig Smith, and I can’t wait to introduce him as the new men’s basketball head coach of the Utah State Aggies. Coach Craig Smith.”

Head Men’s Basketball Coach Craig Smith
“Wow, this is awesome. Let’s give a round of applause to our pep band here. My son, Carson, raise your hand, Carson is learning how to play the trumpet, so you can imagine what our house is like at night, you know, ‘Carson go outside so we can concentrate.’

“What a great day, what a great turnout. Thanks, everybody for showing up. I’ve been in this business a long time, 22 years, and I’ve been fortunate enough to coach at every level: NAIA, D-II, low-major, mid-major, high-major. I’ve been a head coach and an ops guy and everything in between. When you coach at the lower levels, you’re an assistant coach, a custodian, you’re the SID, you name it, you do it. What really attracted me to Utah State, quite frankly, was about eight or nine years ago, I was an assistant coach at Colorado State. Of course, Utah State was in the WAC at the time, and we were in the Mountain West. I just remember scouting UNLV and New Mexico and some different teams that played at the Smith Spectrum. I kind of like that name. It has a good ring to it, by the way. But what impressed me immediately, I’m a history major, and I remember where you were, where you are and where we’re going. I would always watch those games, when Utah State would play those teams in the Mountain West because I loved watching them play here because the spirit and atmosphere was incredible. I would always think I would love to coach at that place because it’s so important to the people. That’s when, quite frankly, Utah State was introduced to me eight or nine years ago. So, going through this whole process has been amazing. I’m so pumped to be the 19th men’s basketball coach at Utah State University. 

“You go through this process, and it’s been tremendous. I’ve always believed in every stop I’ve been, that you can have success, and it all starts at the top. Certainly, our leadership at the top with President Cockett and John (Hartwell) is just tremendous. As some of you guys saw ahead of time, we flew in here on Sunday. When we sat down and had lunch, it was just an instant connection. It just felt like family. I’m a huge family guy, obviously my wife is. I’ve learned from this process that so are they. It’s just so important for me, and to our family, to feel like we’re a part of it, and we’re all in this thing together. So, this process has been amazing. Like John said, we met in person last week, there was an instant connection. We were in that interview for I don’t know how long, but it literally felt like 15 minutes. I walked out that door, and I called my wife and I said, ‘I can’t explain it, but you just know it when you know it. I hope like crazy I get a phone call back to see this thing go on further.’ When you have that kind of leadership, though, it’s amazing what you can truly accomplish. For that, I really appreciate everything. Their visions are certainly in line with mine. When John and I were really talking and going back and forth, it was like he was taking the words right out of my mouth. I can’t speak exactly for him, but I think there was some yin and yang there going back and forth, especially when we were talking about player personnel, right. Kind of an inside joke. We’ll laugh about that later, when the kids aren’t around.

“Before I get too crazy, I do want to bring my family up. Darcy, come on up, kids, come on up. This is my wife Darcy, we’ve been married for almost 23 years, and most guys can relate, it’s been very long for her and very quick for me. But she’s the rock. We’ve had, I don’t know how many stops on this journey, but she’s the most amazing person I’ve ever met, so supportive of everything. When this first became a possibility, she was like, ‘if you feel like it’s right, let’s go.’ So, she’s just been incredible. Then we have, I’ll go oldest to youngest. We have Landon. Landon is a junior in high school. He’s taken. He has a girlfriend already, so all you nice young girls, just stay away. The smartest, well obviously Darcy’s the smartest, but Landon is a very close second. We have Brady right here. Brady is an eighth-grader, and that’s about as big of a smile you’re going to get out of Brady. In South Dakota, you get to drive when you’re 14, and he’s 15. What is it in Utah, 16? Like most states with sanity. We’ll have to see how this transition goes. Can he drive or not? I don’t know, he’ll probably try to keep that South Dakota driver’s license as long as he can. We have Carson here. Carson has a big smile all the time. We know he’s the trumpet player and just kind of a natural guy. They have the nickname ‘the Smith boys,’ and they’re kind of a wrecking crew. If we get invited to a house, there might be some holes in the wall by the end of it. Then we have Lauren, the princess here. Lauren runs the show, as you can imagine. I’m so proud of these guys. You’re going to see us everywhere. We’re truly all-in as a family. Last night, we were sitting in the hotel and it’s one of those things like ‘this is real.’ It’s been a great two days with our team and meeting so many amazing people. Last night at dinner, there was countless people coming up and saying ‘hi,’ which is awesome. But I’m laying there and can’t fall asleep and I’m sitting there and I say “babe, can you believe in your wildest dreams, your wildest dreams, did you ever imagine that I’d be the head men’s basketball coach at Utah State University?’ and she kind of rolls over and looks at me and says ‘baby, you’re not even in my wildest dreams.’

“We’re open access. Anything we can ever do in the community, speaking, whatever it might be, don’t hesitate to ask. We’re all in this together.

“I want to thank my agent(s) those two guys have been so amazing to me. They’re just regular dudes, always have your back and are super supportive. They have great insight into everything, and they couldn’t be here today. And then, like John alluded to, this whole search process, quite frankly, has been phenomenal, and I’ve been a part of a few of them. I want to thank Glenn Sugiyama with DHR International. Glenn has spearheaded the whole thing. Everything has been top-notch, first-class in everything they’ve done. He has an amazing way of keeping things professional, yet personal. It’s a hard thing to go through. Utah State having to take care of some things, the privacy of your family and certainly protecting my old school, the University of South Dakota. I just can’t thank you enough, Glenn, for the way you’ve operated. We just met, obviously, a few days ago. I told Glenn, ‘it’s been five days, but it feels like five years at times.’ He just knows how to take care of business, so thank you Glenn.

“I want to thank all the fantastic fans. I just truly believe never delay gratitude. Our family had an amazing four years at the University of South Dakota. We have great fans, and their support has been incredible. We always say to our guys: the college experience is about the relationships you make and the experiences that you gain that last a lifetime. Certainly, we have friends there that will last a lifetime. We had ‘the River Crew,’ but I know some of them are watching now. Thank you to ‘the River Crew,’ you guys have been incredible to us. We want to thank President (James) Abbott at the University of South Dakota, David Herbster, the Athletic Director, David Williams, who was our Deputy AD and my direct supervisor, for giving this guy his first chance as a head coach at the University of South Dakota. When I took over there, it was a struggle. We had to get through a lot of stuff in terms of the record and culture and some different things, but fortunately for us, we were able to do that and go 48-21 the last two years. We were ranked as high as number three in the mid-major poll last year and ended at number six behind schools like Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s.

“You coach for as long as I have, you run into some special teams. I can’t speak highly enough of the players that were in our program. That’s a tough deal because a big reason why those guys came is because of me and our coaching staff. To walk away from them, I just can’t thank them enough for what they gave. I like to use the phrase, ‘I would dive on a grenade for that guy,’ and I would that for that team, and I think they would do it likewise, and we’re going to get the same thing going here at Utah State.

“I’d like to thank our staff there. A big part of winning is your staff. We were very fortunate to hire a great staff. Austin Hansen, Eric Peterson and Gameli Ahelegbe and Rick Karius and all those guys who were with us for the duration. You know how it is in athletics, they say you’re either coming or you’re going. Our staff was with us all four years and have great families. The sacrifice they have to help us get to the top was tremendous, so thank you to our staff.

“Towards the end here, I always knew it would take a special situation for me to leave the University of South Dakota, and I’ve certainly found it here at Utah State, where we have the leadership, like I’ve talked about it, and we have the resources in place to be a major, major force in a great conference in the Mountain West. That’s my expectation. I don’t do well with excuses. Obviously, you heard John talk about winning, and he’s made that crystal clear to me. That’s what you want. Pressure is a privilege. You want to work for people that have high expectations. You want to coach guys that have incredible expectations for themselves and their players. I have tremendous expectations for Utah State men’s basketball, and I will work my hands to the bone to get this program back where it belongs, and that’s on top of the Mountain West Conference.

“A couple more thank you’s, and I’m going to get rolling here. I want to thank coach (Tim) Duryea. His effort and all the years he’s put in here is more appreciated than he could possibly imagine. He’s a tremendous person, and I can’t thank him enough for his support. Tim Miles is my mentor. He’s the youngest of five, and I’m the oldest of five. He’s kind of the older brother I never had, and I’m the little brother he never had. Some of you may know, he’s the head coach at the University of Nebraska. I worked with him when he was an NAIA guy. He’s just been so tremendous, teaching me how to be a professional and how this business works. I just can’t thank coach Miles enough. Mike Moore, that was my first AD I ever worked with, the first guy that hired me as a head coach at Mayville State University. I took over a program that had won one game the year before. Fortunately for us, we went to three national tournaments, and ended my third year playing in a national championship game.

“Of course, I’ve had to live with this for four years. At my press conference at South Dakota, I didn’t thank my parents. So, for four years, I’ve had this guilt, so I put in all caps ‘MY PARENTS.’ I thank my parents. Just incredible people, the way they raised us. I’m not sure they had two dimes to rub together, but they’re the richest people I know. The value of working hard and sacrifice and all those things that go into having a chance to be successful in anything that you do in life. So, mom and dad, thank you for everything. Hi mom.

“I want to thank the current basketball team here. I tell you, transition is difficult. It’s really tough on those guys. You have two weeks without a coach, and you can imagine what that’s like. It’s tough. ‘What’s going to happen, what’s the next guy going to be like? Does he believe in us, does he know the Aggie Way?’ All of those kinds of things. What’s he going to be like? Is he going to be a militant guy? It’s tough. It’s tough on me. I don’t know these guys yet. I’m a big relationship guy. So, you have to be able to build trust, right? These guys have done a great job.  I met with them on Sunday for probably about a half an hour. You look at body language, and by the end, they’re sitting up and start talking a little bit more, so we built some equity there. Yesterday was great. I had some individual meetings, I’ll do more today and a little bit tomorrow to get to know what makes them tick. What are you about, tell me about your family. Seeing in the weight room yesterday, it was great seeing the energy. There was a tremendous energy in the weight room yesterday. A lot of high fiving and fist pumping. You’re going to see that out of our teams. We’re going to have the GATA-style of playing. GATA is ‘Get After Their… Butts.’ It’s a GATA mentality. We’re going to be the toughest dudes out there. We’re going to be high fiving, diving on the floor, playing aggressive man-to-man defense. We’re going to push the pace, but we are going to play on attack. We are going to be in attack mode all the time. Last year at the University of South Dakota, we were 32nd in the country in defensive field goal percentage, we were 36th in the country in offensive field goal percentage, we were, I believe, 10th in the country in point differential, we were 13th in the country in turnover margin. So, we’re going to be the aggressors all the time. I think it’s a fun style to play and for you to watch. 

“One of the best awards our team has ever received was when I was at Mayville, the Naismith/Liston Award. It was a national award for the team that showed the best sportsmanship, the most hustle, the best teamwork, and it seems like a little thing, but I’m really proud of that because that’s about culture. That’s about a day-to-day mentality of showing up at the gym or the weight room or whatever it might be to be your best. We talked briefly about that with our guys yesterday. I’m so fired up to be here, as you can maybe tell. I can’t wait to get rolling. 

“I could talk all day about hoops, but I’m sure some of you guys need to get back to work, and I do want to open it up for questions, but I want to end it with this. I was so fortunate. The late coach Don Meyer, who some of you may know, did coaching camps and clinics all over the place. Coach Meyer was a big-time mentor for me, in terms of he was almost like a father or grandfather type of figure. Through him, I got to meet the late, great John Wooden. He surprised me. We went on a trip to speak at a coaching clinic in southern California. He didn’t tell me what else we were doing. We drive up to this residential area and this condo, very modest. He rings the doorbell and out walks coach Wooden. We spent the whole day with coach. I was a 32-year-old and just got done with my first year as a head coach. You coach for so many reasons. I love the competition, ‘bring on the competition’ is my motto. But, I spent the whole day with him, and he had this old cell phone, probably as wide as this podium, and you can hear every voicemail. Bill Walton was calling, Swen Nater, the late Pat Summit, I could go on and on. You heard every voicemail. All these former players would end it by saying ‘I love you coach.’ That just hit me. I don’t want to get too deep, but it truly is about the experiences you gain and the relationships you make. I’m like ‘I want to be like that.’ We all want to be like coach Wooden, but that’s what I want out of this experience. It’s amazing. Going through that process, it’s been so fun to hear those words from so many players, whether I was an assistant at Nebraska or at Colorado State or a head coach at South Dakota or my former guys at Mayville State. You get that when you win, you get that when you build trust and you build equity and you just mentor that way.

“I’m so fired up to get going here. I didn’t talk a ton about basketball except being in attack mode. I can’t wait to up our schedule, I truly believe in being the best and playing the best, and we’re going to build a fantastic schedule. We have to get this thing going again where the Mountain West Conference has multiple bid teams that can get at-larges. I think that’s incredibly important, and I don’t see why not get that thing going with the Aggies. I’m so proud to be your men’s basketball coach, and go Aggies!”

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