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Brian Smith GARY ABBOTT’S MATSIDE CHAT WITH...


Missouri coach Brian Smith is making a big impact in college wrestling. A high school state champion in Florida, Smith com- peted for Michigan State. The son of a coach, he put his pas- sion for wrestling into a strong coaching career. He started as a successful high school coach in Florida, then served as an assistant at Cornell. His first head coaching stint was at Syracuse before he was hired at Missouri in 1998. Smith has built the Tigers into a national contender, starting


with a team which was the perennially last in the Big 12. He has coached NCAA champions Ben Askren, Mark Ellis and Max Askren. His team was third at the 2007 NCAA Championships, and won the Big 12 team title in 2012. The Tigers are starting their first year in the Mid-America Conference and is again a team ranked in the top 10. We visited Coach Smith just after his team took third in the rugged Southern Scuffle in January.


USA Wrestler: How did you get involved with wrestling and


who were your early influences in the sport? Smith: My father was a football coach and we lived in New


York. It was because of my health that we left there. My family decided to move to a warmer climate. We picked up and moved to Florida. I was fortunate to have a caring family that would do that for me. I was crushed when we moved. The one sport I wanted to play was lacrosse and they didn’t have that there. I told my dad I was going out for basketball. He said, Brian, you are a Smith and we are short. Wrestling would be good for foot- ball. I wanted to be a football player also. That was enough for me. My dad was a football coach and AD. He’d make his ath- letes wrestle if they didn’t play basketball. He’d make his play- ers do something in the winter season. My first year, I did it just to get better at football. I was only on JV then.


USA Wrestler: What were the highlights of your high school career? Smith: When I got into the lineup in wrestling, I started to


realize I could be good. I qualified for the state as a sophomore, and lost to guys who were second and third in the state. I was close. My cousin was a Div. II All-American wrestler at C.W. Post on Long Island. He asked why don’t I spend the summer with him? I had other cousins who wrestled in college. When I did that, I spent every waking moment trying to learn to wrestle. I was a quarterback in football. The football coach said I could hold for extra points and be the backup quarterback. I decided I should put more time into my wrestling. My cousin helped coach me my last two years in high school. I won the state as a junior. My senior year, I moved four hours from my family to wrestle for Randy Miller. He was a great coach, a roommate of Pat Milkovich at Michigan State. He taught me how to wrestle and I loved it. It is amazing how far I progressed in just three years.


USA Wrestler: How do you assess your college career at Michigan State? Smith: I was recruited to Michigan State by Grady Penager


and Pat Milkovich. Unfortunately, when I got there, Grady retired and Pat didn’t get the job. Phil Parker was our coach. I never reached my goal of being an All-American and a national cham-


24 USA Wrestler


Brian Smith (left) has led a remarkable turnaround with the Missouri wrestling program. Larry Slater photo.


pion. The program struggled the years I was there. But when I was there, I worked every waking moment trying to get better. I worked out with Don Behm often, and Jesse Reyes came around and trained with me.


USA Wrestler: When did you decide to pursue coaching, and


what about coaching attracted you to the profession? Smith: Pat Milkovich knew I wanted to be a coach. When we


were at a wrestling camp, he’d point out the best coaches for me to work with. They were not always the big names, some- times they were high school coaches. But they knew how to coach. Pat had me pick their brains. My dad was the same way. He said to be a student of the sport. I ended up graduating and started teaching and coaching in high school. I returned to Florida. I took the job in August, started a USA Wrestling club. We had up to 60 kids in the program. It was fun. In my first year, we were second in the state behind Brandon, which was kind of a shock. The kids bought in and worked hard.


USA Wrestler: Talk about your college coaching experiences


as an assistant at Cornell. Smith: After two years at high school, I got really lucky. I got


a call from Jack Spates at Cornell. He wrestled with my cousin in high school on Long Island. He called and asked if I’d be the restricted earnings coach. Everyone thought I was crazy to con-


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