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OSU Wrestling: The Impact John Smith Had on His Final Boss, Chad Weiberg

‘I knew then that I was watching greatness’



[Dekota Gregory/PFB]

Chad Weiberg had no clue what was going on down there on that mat, but he knew he was watching greatness.

Weiberg, Oklahoma State’s athletic director, attended his first wrestling dual as a junior high boy in 1985 at Gallagher Hall. A couple of strangers sitting in the old wooden chairs behind him eventually caught on that the young Weiberg was new to the sport and helped educate him during duals throughout that season.

“I wish I knew who those guys were now, but even with that, I knew then that I was watching greatness,” Weiberg says now.

The wrestler Weiberg remembers most from that season: John Smith, who at the time would have been a redshirt sophomore with a lot of potential. Enough potential that he won back-to-back NCAA titles the next two seasons and still today is OSU’s all-time wins leader with 152. Then he would go on to win six straight world championships, including two Olympic gold medals. And when his wrestling career ended, Smith took over Cowboy Wrestling as head coach, leading OSU to five NCAA titles and winning a program-best 490 duals.

Thirty-three years later, Smith announced his retirement. And that junior high kid admiring Smith’s talent 39 years ago was his final boss.

“Fast forward to now, and through the years, when we would have regular meetings about normal things, he would get up from the table and he would leave the office and I would be like, ‘Holy hell, that was John Smith,’” Weiberg said. “I can’t believe that I’m that junior high kid watching him do what he did. Being able to have those conversations and working with him. In the last week or so, to have the conversations we’ve had about this moment, it’s hard to – it’s kind of like – how did this happen? As much as I hate it and didn’t want it to happen, to be in the room with him during those conversations were incredible for me, to be around greatness, for all the reasons, not just the coaching but for the athlete and person he is.”

When Scott Wright of The Oklahoman asked Weiberg about working with Smith at Smith’s retirement news conference on Monday, Weiberg immediately reached for some of Smith’s tissues lying on the tabletop. Then he paused and fought back tears for nearly 40 seconds before finally getting out the answer from above.

“It is the coach, beyond all the championships and all the All-Americans, that makes John Smith a legend,” Weiberg said. “I rarely, if ever, call him ‘John.’ He is always ‘Coach’ or ‘Coach Smith,’ because I believe the title of ‘Coach’ is one of the most impactful titles anyone can hold. No one embodies all that this title means better than Coach Smith.

“During his time as the head coach, he has had over 400 young men on his rosters. As you can imagine, that means there are over 400 stories of how Coach Smith matters in the lives of these men — and now their families. And that doesn’t begin to count the international teams and the 1,000s of campers who have been part of John Smith wrestling camps throughout the years. When you pause and consider the impact, the influence, the significance he has had, that extends so far beyond the man. He has inspired athletes to reach deeper than they thought possible, and truly achieve all they were capable of — even if, or especially if, they didn’t know it was possible, themselves — in wrestling, and in life. The very definition of a coach.”

Weiberg was the last of six athletic directors who Smith worked under. Mike Holder, who was in attendance Monday, led Smith the longest from 2005 until he retired and Weiberg was promoted to the role in 2021.

“I appreciate Chad as my A.D.,” Smith said. “I wish I had more time to spend with him. He’s a great man, cares for people. This process, he’s made it real easy for me. He cares. He cares, not just about winning. He cares about people. Coach Holder, I appreciate how tough he was — for being a golfer. He should’ve been a wrestler. He’s tough. His expectations were tough. I didn’t like them all the time. I didn’t like him all the time. He cared about OSU wrestling, and Chad did too. Coach (Holder) cared about wrestling, and he made sure I knew about it all the time.”

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