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OSU Wrestling: John Smith Says Retirement Plans ‘Not Part of the Season’

‘You don’t really think what you want to do as a coach. You got enough to do to clean things up and put a respectable team out on the mat and be competitive like we’re used to.’



[Devin Wilber/PFB]

It’s been since after the 2016-17 season when I met with John Smith in his office to discuss his future as Oklahoma State’s wrestling coach. Rumors swirling at that season’s NCAA Wrestling Championships was what prompted the meeting. He told me then, “I go one year at a time now. I don’t really focus on anything (other) than the year I’m in.”

Nearly seven years later, Smith is still being asked about retirement. And he is almost every season. That happens, though, when you’re 58 and have been at the same job for 33 years. Speculation raises even more when you bring in a former wrestler from your program with eight successful years as a head coach at a Power Five program to be your associate head coach.

The possibility of retirement was brought up again at Wednesday’s media availability ahead of the Cowboys’ dual against OU at 2 p.m. Sunday in Gallagher-Iba Arena. Next week, OSU hosts No. 4 Iowa before starting the postseason in March.

“It’s not part of the season,” Smith said. “You don’t want anything to be a part of the season. For now, I have every intentions to coach this team up and have a great season. I think when you get where I’m at, I don’t think you look any further. I think there’s too much energy that needs to go into how you’re gonna not take 18th again, not take [14th] again, our last two years. Eliminate all the crap that we’ve dealt with in the last two years — make sure that is removed and away from your team.

“So you don’t really think what you want to do as a coach. You got enough to do to clean things up and put a respectable team out on the mat and be competitive like we’re used to.”

Smith’s answer Wednesday echoed what he said in 2017 and even last year during the NCAA Wrestling Championships in Tulsa. Last season, the question was prompted during the Cowboys’ worst finish at the national tournament ever under Smith, as OSU finished 18th. OSU finished in 14th the season before that. I once witnessed Smith question why someone even handed him a trophy for third place because even finishing inside the top 20 but outside the top five has been an anomaly in the Smith era. That consistent success is why a coach is able to stay at the same place for 33 years, though.

The Pokes have drastically turned things around this season at 13-0 and ranked second in the country behind Penn State. Smith has put together back-to-back solid recruiting classes, brought in transfers making immediate impacts and added Coleman Scott to the coaching staff.

Even with the program getting back to national contention, though, Smith’s future with OSU has still been questioned, mainly because of that addition of Scott to the staff. Scott wrestled for Smith from 2005-08 and won an individual national title in 2008 before pursuing an international career where he earned a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Stillwater was Scott’s first stop after wrestling, joining the coaching staff as a volunteer assistant for two years. He then left for North Carolina, where he eventually became the head coach for eight seasons and guided the Tar Heels to the second-best winning percentage in program history. A call from Smith was all it took to get him back to Stillwater.

“Well, you take a guy that is head coach [eight] years, tough place, North Carolina, and you know what I mean by that — get shuffled, maybe sometimes not even noticed anywhere and trying to build a program — you experience a lot of things that we don’t go through. And those are the things that he brought here,” Smith said Wednesday. “It’s new ideas, new opportunities that we didn’t realize that we had. And he’s got a winning attitude from the standpoint of being a national champion, being an Olympic bronze medalist. I think the message that he helped bring here, a lot of these guys jumped on.

“So, yeah, he’s been a blessing for us to be able to come out of this two-year slump and go forward. Definitely.”

Scott, at least publicly, says he didn’t make the move to eventually succeed Smith, though.

“That’s above my head,” Scott said in December. “I don’t make those decisions. I’m just here to help Cowboy Wrestling and OSU Wrestling, and see where we can go. Again, if it’s an opportunity, it’s an opportunity. But I’m in a great place and love what I’m doing, love where I live. That’s what I view it as.”

Nonetheless, whether it’s someone’s alma-mater or not, Scott leaving a Power Five head coaching gig to be an assistant raised some eyebrows. Many assumed there must be more in store for Scott in the future of Cowboy Wrestling. And maybe that was sooner than later.

Scott’s addition has drawn nothing but praise from fans, making the fan base somewhat giddy about the possibility of Scott leading the Cowboys some day. His former coach and now boss hasn’t been coy of the benefits of having Scott around either.

“Man, my life’s so much easier [because of Scott],” Smith said. “I think a lot of it is just the fact that he’s aware of being a head coach. He’s aware of his stresses and strains as being a head coach. There’s no question I think he sees where he can help and he does a lot of things I don’t even know. So, been good, real good.”

But, whether it’s for another month or another seven years, Smith isn’t saying he’s finished just yet.

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