LOGAN — He hadn’t yet said a word, but new Utah State basketball coach Craig Smith had already won the day. The pep band had played a couple of warm-up numbers, then launched into “The Scotsman, ” USU’s unofficial fight song, as he arrived.
Smith began pumping his arms, as students in The Hurd do at every game.
“Just for clarification,” USU President Noelle Cockett said, “we are not milking cows.”
Milking the opportunity?
Guilty as charged.
Utah State welcomed its 19th head coach, Tuesday at the Wayne Estes Center, and all the campus and downtown big shots were there. They couldn’t have been more receptive. And Smith couldn’t have been more engaging.
“We’re gonna be aggressive dudes,” he said to the audience of a few hundred. “We’re gonna be high-fiving and diving on the floor, playing aggressive man-to-man defense, but we are gonna push the pace and we are gonna play on attack.”
Cue the fight song music. Smith has charisma to, well, beat the band.
Who knows if wins will follow?
Smith has certainly made the milk run of smaller jobs. He has coached at Mayville State, Northern State, Minot State, North Dakota State and South Dakota.
So he’s got the Dakotas covered.
Other stops have been at Colorado State and Nebraska as an assistant.
While Smith’s rapid-fired, upbeat delivery might seem over the top at some places, firing up donors is half the job nowadays. Shake hands, promise change, predict success and the money rolls in.
“We are gonna be the aggressors all the time,” Smith said.
Introduction day always has a positive vibe. Smith recounted how, as an assistant at CSU, he scouted certain games that included trips to Logan. The Hurd fascinated him.
“I would always think, ‘I would love to coach at that place,’” he said.
After interviewing for the Aggie job, he told his wife, “I hope like crazy I get the call.”
Smith arrived Tuesday like a gust out of Logan Canyon. He said hearing The Hurd calling out “Winning team! Losing team!” at the end of games always gave him goose bumps. If he has any shortcomings, enthusiasm isn’t one of them. He promised to “work my hands to the bone to get the program back where it belongs, and that’s on top of the Mountain West Conference.”
He got so worked up that partway through his speech he had to peel off his sport coat.
Smith recounted how, after being hired, he told his wife, “Can you ever believe in your wildest dreams that I’d be the head basketball coach at Utah State University?”
Her reply: “Baby, you’re not even in my wildest dreams.”
The guy even does a decent standup.
Making a name for himself at USU won’t be easy. Tim Duryea found that out, after following Stew Morrill, who won 72 percent of his games and seven conference championships over 17 seasons. Word floating around last week was that USU was seeking a “name” hire.
They got Craig Smith.
What, John Doe was taken?
This Smith attended a Minnesota high school with 18 people in his graduating class.
“I check in at a hotel and say ‘Craig Smith’ and they kind of look at me and I say, ‘I promise, it’s not my alias.’ ”
Aggie fans have come to accept their coaches don’t usually come with a brand name. The idea is to make one. That’s not a bad thing. Smith on Tuesday covered fan loyalty, academics, character, athleticism, winning, tradition, goals, family, work ethic and scooping up a snake with his hands to protect his son. (That’s a story for another day.)
“We have the resources in place to be a major, major force in a great conference, the Mountain West Conference,” Smith said.
Doing that would make him somebody indeed.
“I am so pumped to be the 19th head basketball coach at Utah State University,” he said.