Grading the hire: Utah State basketball’s Craig Smith
The Aggies introduced their newest head basketball coach Craig Smith Tuesday
Smith brings experience, energy and at least one snake-punching story to his new role
Meet Craig Smith, the man charged with bringing the magic back to a once-dominant fixture in the mid-majors. Utah State’s 19th head basketball coach is fresh off a good stint in South Dakota and seems to have all the charm in the world necessary to play a key role in a tight-knit Cache Valley community. But can the dude coach?
Considering Smith’s consistent winning trajectory, the answer for now is a resounding “yup.” Smith started as an assistant on a Mayville State team that leapt from the depths of misery to a 27-9 NAIA title contender in his lone season with the program. His career includes a brief stint in North Dakota State, a four-year stretch as an assistant at Colorado State and two years at Nebraska before landing the head coaching gig at South Dakota, where he improved his 17-16 squad to 26-9. Smith’s last season in South Dakota saw the Coyotes playing for the Summit League title.
Smith making a habit of improving everywhere he’s been must have attracted USU’s John Hartwell, who hasn’t been shy about what he looks for in a new head coach.
“That’s what the ‘Spectrum Magic’ is about,” Hartwell said in Tuesday’s hybrid press conference/celebration. “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.”
Two weeks ago, Hartwell’s list of prerequisites for the position seemed out of reach. What sort of coach can re-establish a once-great hoops culture, develop players, recruit, coach, engage and excited on a mid-major budget? Considering the potential seismic shifts coming soon to the Mountain West Conference and two years of eligibility remaining for star backcourt duo Sam Merrill and Koby McEwen, a misstep could sink Utah State’s program for years to come. Smith plans to combat this danger with something noticeably absent from recent Aggie campaigns: attitude.
“We’re going to be the toughest dudes out there,” Smith said. “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.”
Now, talk is cheap, and veteran coaches know all the right things to say in setting ssuch as this. But Smith has an electricity and an honesty to him that makes you believe (and players believe) that his expectations can become a reality.
Hartwell managed to check every one of his boxes with Smith, taking the Aggies back into what ought to be a step in the right direction.
Plus, the guy fought a rattlesnake once.