The Utes have their next basketball coach for the men’s program, as they didn’t have to go far to find him. The hired Utah State coach Craig Smith almost a week after letting go of Larry Krystkowiak.
After Alex Jensen pulled his name out of consideration, Johnnie Bryant did the same on Friday, and then the wheels really started to get moving, as rumors of Smith picked up steam on Friday night. It didn’t take long after that, as on Saturday, news had broke on Twitter that Smith would be the guy.
“Craig Smith brings incredible energy and passion and a proven record of success,” Utah AD Mark Harlan said. “I’m thrilled to have him lead our men’s basketball program, and look forward to our student-athletes experiencing his incredible work ethic, dedication to being a teacher of the game, and his ability to relate with his players and help them achieve their greatest potential.”
“My family and I are thrilled to join the University of Utah and the community of Salt Lake City,” Smith said. “The Utah men’s basketball program has fantastic leadership at the top in Director of Athletics Mark Harlan and his executive team. After visiting with Mark, it became clear that our visions for Utah Basketball were aligned. This program has a rich tradition of excellence in the history of college basketball. Our facilities are state-of-the-art and first-class in every way. Our fan base has tremendous energy, knowledge, and passion. We can’t wait to pack the Huntsman Center, feed off the energy of The MUSS, and bring a consistent winner back to the U!”
Here are some of his accolades from the official release:
In 25 years of collegiate coaching experience, including 10 as a head coach, Smith has been to postseason play 13 times, while winning four regular season and four postseason conference championships. He has earned four conference coach of the year awards (2006, 2007, 2017, 2019) in three different conferences and was named NAIA II National Coach of the Year Award in 2007, the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) District 12 Coach of the Year Award in 2017, and NABC District 17 Coach of the Year and USBWA District VIII Coach of the Year in 2019.
In his first year at Utah State, Smith led the Aggies to a 28-7 record, the most wins by a first-year head coach in USU history and the third-most wins overall in school history. USU advanced to the NCAA Tournament as a No. 8 seed, the highest in program history. His second Utah State team in 2019-20 won its second consecutive MWC Tournament Championship to earn the MW’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, and finished 26-8.
The Aggies also excelled in the classroom under Smith, earning an NCAA Division I-best seven NABC Honors Court accolades in 2020, while eight student-athletes earned a total of 13 academic All-MW awards and six more have earned a total of nine MW scholar-athlete accolades in his first two years. In addition to his three highly-successful seasons leading the Utah State program, Smith was head coach at the University of South Dakota from 2014-17, where he compiled a 79-55 record and head coach at Mayville State from 2005-07 (72-29). Between his head coaching stints at Mayville State and South Dakota, Smith spent seven seasons as an assistant coach at Nebraska (2012-14) and Colorado State (2007-12), helping lead the Cornhuskers to the 2014 NCAA Tournament and the Rams to the 2012 NCAA Tournament. While at CSU, Smith also helped the Rams advance to the 2010 CBI Tournament and the 2011 NIT.
I think this is a great hire. He is enthusiastic, has a lot of energy, has proven that he can win everywhere he goes, and he said all the right things at the press conference. He may not be the biggest name nationally, but he’s gotten the job done, and he revived Utah State after they hit hard times. I wouldn’t say this Utah basketball program has hit hard times, really, not like after Boylen, but it has stalled and stagnated. There has been no energy around the program. I think Smith can get this moving again and reengage the fan base and the players. The first up will be to see if he can get Timmy Allen and perhaps Riley Battin back in the fold, assuming they fit what he wants. He is also going to be looking at filling out his staff. He did state that he’ll talk to the existing guys on the hill to see if they fit. I’m hoping he retains Tommy Conner in some capacity. He also said his guys in Logan would get talked to as well.
We should see more news in the coming weeks about his staff and hopefully his ability to patch the holes in the roster because it’s not far off from being a major player in the Pac-12 again, after all, they blew a ton of double-digit leads this past season.
No begins the Craig Smith era at Utah. Let’s go.