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The Top 5 Quotes from John Smith’s Retirement News Conference

‘I didn’t make [Cowboy Wrestling], it made me’



[Dekota Gregory/PFB]

John Smith admitted that even though he didn’t initially want to do a news conference about his retirement, he was eventually glad athletic director Chad Weiberg twisted his arm so he could “tell a little bit of my story.”

Smith announced on Thursday his retirement as Oklahoma State’s wrestling coach after leading the program for 33 years. On Monday, OSU hosted a news conference with Smith and Weiberg inside a packed meeting room at Boone Pickens Stadium, filled with Smith’s friends and family, OSU’s current staff, current and former OSU wrestlers, OSU coaches from other sports and even former athletic director Mike Holder. Smith entered and exited the news conference to a standing ovation from all those in attendance.

“I just feel really nervous,” Smith said. “I think I’m nervous because I’m just really fortunate to be able to tell a little bit of my story. Most people retire and they walk out out of the office, packaging their stuff up in a box and they walk out. I get to tell my story, and for me, it’s that important. I didn’t want to do this, but I’m glad I got the opportunity.”

There’s a lot to unpack from 33 years and a news conference that lasted over 25 minutes before Smith and Weiberg answered questions from the media for another 37 minutes. Here are the top five quotes that stood out from Smith’s retirement news conference.

1. Credit Lee Roy For the Start of the Smith Legacy

Just like any retirement speech, Smith started his with introductions of his family and plenty of thank yous. Actually, Smith’s first quote after Weiberg handed things over to him was, “OK, Mom, stand up,” before he introduced the mother of 10, who Smith referred to as a “rattlesnake” multiple times while crediting her for various attributes and characteristics.

But the most heartfelt introduction for Smith, as he battled back tears, was for his older brother, Lee Roy, who was a three-time All-American as a Cowboy and was the first Smith to attend OSU. Weiberg credited and thanked Lee Roy for making John Smith’s legacy at OSU possible since he was the first Smith to leave Del City for Stillwater, and John Smith ultimately followed.

“My hero,” Smith said before introducing Lee Roy. “My first hero, Lee Roy Smith.”

Smith said Lee Roy signing his National Letter of Intent to OSU is what prompted his first trip to Gallagher Hall at 10, when he examined pictures “in 30 cent frames” on the wall of past Cowboy legends.

“There was just a level motivation saying, ‘I can do this,'” Smith said. “You’re walking and looking at Frank Lewis — 1936 Olympic gold medalist — it just made me believe that this is where I belong and this is an opportunity for me to capitalize on everything I’ve ever wanted in wrestling. I was a highly motivated wrestler as a young guy with my brother growing up in Oklahoma, one of the best ever that ever came through the state, coming to Oklahoma State. For me, spending time in Gallagher Hall was just one incredible moment for a young kid, and still today, Gallagher-Iba Arena — I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent in this facility from the time I was here.”

2. Why Now?

The main question being pondered since Smith’s announcement Thursday has been, after 33 years, why now?

Smith said he wanted to assure that when he walked away Cowboy Wrestling was in a better place. He couldn’t have retired after the previous two seasons when OSU finished in 14th in 2022 and 18th in 2023 in what were disappointing campaigns by Cowboy Wrestling standards. He even admitted he pondered retiring after the 2019-20 season, but then COVID hit and he didn’t want to leave the program during such an uncertain time. But this past season the Cowboys jumped inside the top 10 at the NCAA Wrestling Championships after going 14-1 in duals and setting a season attendance record along the way. Smith also mentioned the addition of associate head Coleman Scott, who wrestled under Smith and was the head coach at North Carolina the previous eight years.

“When I walked away from the NCAA Championship this year I was complete,” Smith said. “I wish we would have done better than 10th — 16 points away from second, which wasn’t much, one guy, everyone was bunched in there — I wish we would have done better, but for me, the way we wrestled the year, it was nice walking away. It wasn’t in good shape two years ago. It wasn’t in good shape two or three years ago, mentally. You coach a long time, not everybody gets to do that. I got to do it when I wrestled — I got to walk away being an Olympic gold medalist. And I get to walk away today feeling complete that my career is complete. I’m walking away from coaching and won’t come back.”

3. The Low Single Leg

It was a long list of things Smith was able to buy because of the low single leg.

Smith developed the low single leg and mastered the move so well that it was deadly enough to win him a pair of NCAA titles and six straight world championships, including two Olympic gold medals. He credited its creation to former coach Tommy Chesbro, who Smith said took him around the country to camps that ultimately led him to developing his signature move because of a “vision for skill and technique.”

“If he didn’t give me that vision there would not be a low single leg,” Smith said. “Literally, for those of you that know, it’s bought me everything. It’s bought me my house, it’s bought me my farm, cows, it’s bought me my beautiful truck. The low single leg paid my way. Literally. They couldn’t stop it. But it was that vision that Chesbro gave me. What a man. What a great man.”

4. ‘I Didn’t Make [Cowboy Wrestling], It Made Me’

After the news conference concluded, Coleman Scott said Smith has been the face of Cowboy Wrestling as long as he’s known it. He admitted Smith didn’t even need a recruiting pitch to get Scott to wrestle for OSU — Smith’s reputation was enough.

As a wrestler, Smith won two NCAA titles, two Olympic gold medals and four world championships. As a coach, he led five NCAA championship teams, 33 individual NCAA champions, 153 All-Americans and two Hodge Trophy winners. Smith still has the most wins in OSU history with 152. He also has the most dual victories as a coach with 490.

But before Smith even started representing OSU in 1983, Cowboy Wrestling had already won 29 national championships, including back-to-back titles the year before and the first year Smith was on campus.

“I didn’t make [Cowboy Wrestling], it made me,” Smith said.” And that’s really how I want people to know me and the way I wanna go out is that I got to be a part of something that’s incredible. I got to be a part of a legacy. I got to be a part of something that when you get your ass knocked down, it’s a lot easier to get up because of the program around you — a lot easier.

“We were fortunate, this year, that we had the success of our program over a long, long years. We were fortunate. This team, this year, was one of the most satisfying I’ve ever had as a coach — knowing what I got and then seeing what they did. What they did is, they wrapped their arms around Oklahoma State wrestling, and it took them all to another level. And not everybody has that. I sure didn’t start that, but I for darn sure helped to keep it. But I didn’t start that. I feel really blessed that my whole career here — as a young kid, as a student-athlete and as a coach — I feel blessed that I’ve been a part of something that I get to always be a part of.”

5. Advice For the Next Guy

It’s been 33 years since there was a job opening to be the head coach of Cowboy Wrestling. And not only does the next guy have to fill the boots left by three decades of John Smith, but also over 70 years of tradition even before that, which Smith had to shoulder as a 26-year-old.

Many predict Scott, who is currently interim head coach, will lead the program next, but with Scott out of town most of this week for U.S. Olympic Team Trials, Weiberg said next week is probably the earliest an announcement about the future of Cowboy Wrestling will be made. Whether it’s Scott or not, though, there are high expectations that come with the job, which Smith knows all too well, so I asked him what his advice would be for the next head coach of Cowboy Wrestling.

“Just to embrace it,” Smith said. “Embrace the challenges of it. There’s a level of expectation with Oklahoma State that you’re gonna get. It’s no different than when I was a student-athlete. That expectation, I never was afraid of it. It drove me. It excited me. It gave me a reason to be doing what I’m doing. And what I was doing was training, trying to develop myself to be the very best wrestler in the world. At the beginning of winning your first couple of world championships and your first Olympics, there’s a time that that’s what I wanted to be — the best wrestler at my weight in the world. And then there came a point in my career where that wasn’t enough. I wanted to be the greatest pound-for-pound wrestler in the world. That’s what this program gives you — pressure.

“Legacy’s powerful, man. So powerful. It helps you not miss a lot when things are bad. A lot of people miss when things start getting bad. What I mean miss — miss on the recruit, miss out on a lot of things. When you’re part of something that’s been there and given you the level of motivation and helps you with driving you to different levels, you can avoid a lot of bad things.”

John Smith’s Retirement News Conference

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