May 17, 2013
Smith excited to be back with Bearcats
By David Boyce
When Michael Smith received his undergraduate degree from Central Methodist in the spring of 1996, he knew he wanted to one day become a college coach.
“It was something I tremendously wanted to do,” he said. “I had a passion for helping people. I knew that was something I wanted to continue my career in, teaching the game of basketball.”
Coming from a small school of about 800 students in Fayette, Mo., Smith knew the journey to that goal was going to take plenty of hard work.
After receiving his degree, Smith had no idea the journey would start at Northwest Missouri State and eventually lead back to Maryville 17 years later as the seventh women’s head basketball coach.
Smith, who built Truman women’s basketball team into a 20-game winner, was formally introduced Monday afternoon and his words can’t truly describe how excited he is to once again be a Bearcat.
It’s a message that anybody who spends five minutes with him will feel. He grew up in a rural town near Columbia, Mo. He spent much of his college coaching career in small towns.
Smith, 39, is now excited to bring his wife and two young sons to Maryville and raise his family here while building a women’s basketball program that everybody is proud of.
“I want to embrace the Northwest family again,” Smith said. “I had a pretty good situation at Truman when I left.
“We are going to assemble the right group of people who want to be part of something special. It will be easy for me to sell Northwest because I experienced it myself.”
All new coaches sound great in their first few days on the job. There is new enthusiasm and the prospect of seeing something different.
It can also be unsettling for the returning players, particularly for a group of juniors at Northwest who will be playing for their third coach in three years.
It was vital for athletic director Mel Tjeerdsma to pick the coach who was the right fit for Northwest.
The fact that Smith emailed Tjeerdsma within 15 minutes of seeing on the Northwest website that Coach Mark Kellogg was leaving for West Texas A&M, proved just how interested he was in the job.
“I let him know my sincere interest in this position,” Smith said. “I didn’t think he remembered me. I included in the email who I was. I was a Northwest guy. I understood what the Bearcats stood for and the proud tradition. I told him I would do anything to be a part of that again.”
Occasionally, a college basketball coach happens to be in the right place at the time and luck into a dream position.
Smith is like the 95 percent of college coaches who move up the coaching ladder through hard work and determination.
Smith got a taste of Northwest in the fall of 1995 when Central Methodist women’s basketball team played an exhibition game at Bearcat Arena.
“We pulled in and saw this beautiful facility out front,” Smith said. “The paws were everywhere. When we walked into Bearcat Arena, I saw the bright lights. It was something I never experienced. I thought, ‘wow.’
“I grew up in the Columbia area. The only thing I knew was Mizzou. That was just too big. “I worked as a student assistant at Central Methodist. We had a junior varsity team that I helped coach and recruit. That is where I got my feet wet.”
After he graduated, Smith started applying to high schools. He thought about going to Missouri for a graduate degree.
First, he wanted to do some networking and making a few extra dollars during the summer.
“I was a poor college kid,” he said.
He started calling colleges throughout the Midwest asking if they needed any help with summer camps. He worked a camp at Creighton. Smith worked another at William Jewell under Larry Holley, who is a Northwest graduate.
Smith also worked a couple of basketball camps at Northwest.
“I came up and worked a camp and I met Coach Wayne Winstead,” Smith said. “He was walking around a candidate. I asked his assistant, ‘a candidate for what.’ It was a GA assistant and I asked ‘what was that?’
“I wasn’t familiar with Division II athletics. She said it was an opportunity to come in and be a coach and get your Master’s Degree. I said I absolutely had an interest. I filled out an application.
“They had another camp a week later. I came back for it because I needed the money. I came up the next week and Coach Winstead sat down with me to get to know me and my background. He was a small town guy. He found out I was a small town rural guy. He offered me the job and I accepted it on the spot.”
For the next two years, Smith worked as a GA and earned his Master’s Degree. His experience at Northwest was so powerful that it brought him back to Maryville.
Smith wants to make sure the women basketball players leave Northwest with the same feeling he has about this university.
“At the end of the day, we want these student-athletes to have a great experience and we want them to have fun,” Smith said. “The game is fun. We want them to have a lasting impression of not only basketball, but what it means to be a Bearcat.”
Smith is actually coming into a better situation than the one he stepped into five years ago at Truman. All he heard when he took the Truman job was smart kids can’t play winning basketball. Smith changed that culture.
“Some people look at it as an excuse,” he said. “You can’t win with smart kids so you don’t need to work at it. We are going to work at it. I believe in what I do.”
Smith is not the type to give in to excuses. The fact that many of the returning players will be playing for their third coach in three years does not mean to Smith that the upcoming season is hopeless.
The 2013-14 season will be filled with excitement. Last season, the Bearcats achieved far more than preseason expectations, which had them finishing next to last. Instead, Northwest made the MIAA Tournament, won a first-round game and advanced to Kansas City for the quarterfinals.
“From what I heard about this group of players, it is obvious they are able to adapt. It is a good group of people and once I get that communication, they will understand I have their best interests at heart.
“I will have to re-recruit these kids, not just as basketball players. I know what they can do as basketball players. I’ve watched them play. I need to know them as people, their families, their backgrounds and other things they have interest in. If I do, I can relate to them in other things. At the end of the day, I am a family man. I want to know who likes little kids if I need a babysitter, I can call them up.”
The players will have to adjust to Smith’s coaching philosophy, which is different from Kellogg’s and the coach before him.
“I want hard working kids,” he said. “I am big on team. At Truman, we took 10 to 12 kids and made them all feel they were part of the team because everybody is. In some way, everybody on that roster played a part in our success. It is what we want to incorporate here. It is a team sport.”
Smith simply wants this to be a rewarding experience for everybody involved in Bearcat basketball.
“I think when people get to know me in the Maryville community and at Northwest, they are going to see the passion I have for the game of basketball and in particular the passion I have to help out these young ladies,” he said. “I want to help them become the best player they can be and leave here with a degree so they can do great things. We are here to help build people in every way we can.”
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