OGDEN — Whoever said "You can never go home again" must have never met John L. Smith.
Smith, who played football at Weber State College some 40 years ago, was introduced Tuesday as the new head football coach at Weber State University — a school which has changed much, much more than just its name over the last four decades.
And he was grateful for the chance "to come back to my home, my school, and to have an opportunity to build on what Coach (Ron) McBride has done as well. He's laid a great foundation and done a lot for the program.
"You look at it and you say, 'My goodness, wouldn't that be great to go back and be at your alma mater.' I think everybody out there in the coaching profession has some things that you don't get to do, maybe all of us don't get to do, that everybody would love to do. I'm blessed. That 'L' does stand for lucky.
"No. 1, I've always had a place in my heart for Weber State," Smith said. "You do that naturally; that's your school, that's where you graduated from, so that fondness, that love is always with you. And again, to come back to run your own program as a head coach again is crucial for me. This hopefully can serve as an opportunity for me to give back something to the university."
Smith, 63, has had previous head coaching stops at Idaho, Utah State, Louisville and Michigan State, compiling a career record of 132-86 with 12 postseason appearances in 18 seasons. He has spent the past three years as an assistant coach at the University of Arkansas.
In his introductory press conference at the Stewart Stadium Sky Suites — which weren't even a twinkle in someone's eye when Smith was playing linebacker and quarterback for then-Weber State head coach Sark Arslanian from 1968-71 — Smith was colorful, charismatic and captivating as he outlined his aspirations for the WSU program.
"Our goal is to make Weber State a national champion in football," he said, a declaration which was met with applause by the fans, boosters and school officials in attendance. "That's our goal, and we're gonna spout it, we're gonna tell recruits about it and we're gonna tell 'em 'Hey, come here if want to be a national champion,' because that's what we're going to get done.
"That goal is there, that dream is there, that vision is there, and we are going to ask everybody out there from the student body, administration and faculty to fans, boosters, everybody has to get involved or it's not going to work. So everybody get behind it, everybody believe in it, everybody spout it, and don't be afraid to say it: national champions!
"Let's serve notice and now let's all just go make it happen. And it's going to take all of us," Smith said. "The dream is free; but the journey is not. And the journey begins now. ... It starts today — now — the journey."
Smith's first priority will be to pick his coaching staff, and recruiting is of the essence. He and his staff will soon be busy evaluating the team's returning players to get a better feel for where the program's biggest recruiting needs are.
WSU Athletic Director Jerry Bovee was confident that he had made the right choice in his first major hire since becoming the Wildcats' AD two years ago.
"We were looking for someone that understands the culture of our state, how to recruit here — it's a little different than everywhere else — the dynamics of the Big Sky Conference, which clearly John L. understands; the belief in integrity, running a program with integrity, keeping the rules and doing it the right way," Bovee said.
"The fact that he's an alum was very important to us. He has a deep-seated love for Weber State, he played here, he wants to see the program do well as an alum, a former player and now as a head coach. He has a passion for this program.
"He's demonstrated an ability to create an environment of success. We clearly want that in our program here," he said. "We have lofty goals; we have goals to compete in this conference, to win championships and compete at the national level, and I believe he's the man that will lead this program to do that. ... I'm excited about the future of this program."
JOHN L. SMITH FILE
Hometown: Idaho Falls, Idaho
Alma mater: Weber State (1968-71)
Assistant at Weber State (1972), Montana (1972-76), Nevada (1977-81), Idaho (1982-85), Wyoming (1986), Washington State (1987-88) and Arkansas (2009-11).
Head coach at Idaho (1989-94), Utah State (1995-97), Louisville 1998-2002) and Michigan State (2003-06).
Head coaching record: 132-86 (18 years); Idaho (53-21), Utah State (16-18), Louisville (41-21), Michigan State (22-26).
Postseason appearances: 1989-90, 1992-94 (I-AA playoffs); 1997 (Humanitarian Bowl); 1998 (Motor City Bowl); 1999 (Humanitarian Bowl), 2000 (Liberty Bowl), 2001 (Liberty Bowl), 2002 (GMAC Bowl); 2003 (Alamo Bowl).
Conference titles won or shared: 6
Awards/honors: Big Sky scholar-athlete and Academic All-American, 1971; all-time winningest coach at University of Idaho with 53 victories; Idaho Athletic Hall of Fame, 2001; Big Ten Coach of the Year, 2003.
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