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days later, we beat OSU at the confer- ence and pulled a lot of upsets to do it. It made for a great story. It was a test for the program. To come back a week later and win was a testament that the philoso- phy is working.


USA Wrestler: Missouri switched to the Southeast Conference for all sports, which does not have wrestling. How did the university approach wrestling, and how did you decide to join the Mid American Conference? Smith: After the decision, they came to


me. They asked what we needed to do. Let’s have a plan here. I gave them a list of seven things. They did nine things. They believe it, that this is a sport that can win a national title at Missouri. They have seen what we have done. Our wrestlers are leaders in the athletic department. It wasn’t easy last year with all that going on. I kept getting emails and texts by concerned people. The AD had no thought of dropping the sport. It went about 200 days, until we joined the MAC. I am glad my AD taught me patience. He said let’s not rush in, let’s make the right choice. By waiting, it worked out. I didn’t know the MAC was adding teams. This conference is aggres- sive. They like the sport, want it to grow and be progressive. The geography where we compete is a lot of states where they have great high school wrestling. It will grow into one of the strongest conferences.


USA Wrestler: You have had strong coaching staffs. A recent addition was World champion Sammie Henson, a for- mer Tiger. How does Sammie make a dif- ference in the program? Smith: I coached against Sammie a lot of years. I saw his intensity. I wanted it in the room. I bring intensity, but I wanted more. I went to our administration and said I wanted the best assistant coach I could get and they were supportive. Sammie turned me down the first time. I ran into him at the Olympic Training Center. All barriers were down and we talked two hours. I think he realized I’m a guy who wants to win. A few weeks later, I asked him again. He realized there was something special here.


USA Wrestler: Your team has been successful in developing a fan following for the sport? As the coach, what were things that you did to help publicize the program and make it relevant on your campus and in your community? Smith: You have to get out and speak. You need to be out there, at the high


school tournaments. I go to athletic booster clubs all over the state, to rotary clubs, and tell them what Tiger Style is and about the young men here. Then they say, what can I do to help? There are so many people who want to do something positive with kids. And they don’t have to be involved in wrestling. They want to be part of the program. I also remind our former wrestlers that they are always a part of this. You must make everybody feel important.


USA Wrestler: How important is it for wrestlers to compete in the international styles in the off-season? Smith: I wanted a situation where guys could train here. We had to develop a freestyle program. A year before Ben Askren made the Olympic team, we set up a foundation. We wanted to be able to help the entire state, all year long. There was a room on the other side of our wrestling room. I went to our administra- tion and said we wanted to make it our Olympic training center. They gave us the room, and we now have our own Olympic room, 4,000 square feet. Having athletes on board training, like Nick Marable, makes a difference. We want to have four or five guys in the program. It is neat how it has grown. We had like 16 guys at the University Nationals, and many were All- Americans. It kept our team together and training. When you get better at freestyle, you get better at folkstyle.


USA Wrestler: Do you believe Missouri can put together a national championship team? Smith: It is tough to break in there. When we were ranked No. 1 in 2007, it was only the 11th time a team has ever been ranked No. 1 in wrestling. That’s crazy. In basketball, you might get 11 teams at No. 1 in the same season. We are getting better. With our recruiting class next year, we have great kids com- ing in. We have been third at NCAAs so I know we are close. Last year was the worst NCAAs I’ve had as a coach. But we’ve had many great seasons. A lot of it is getting the talent. Every year we make an improvement. That’s all you can do. I keep trying. We have won almost every tournament in college wrestling. The only one we haven’t won is the NCAAs. All you can do is get better every day.


USA Wrestler: You have taken a lead- ership position within the sport, including serving as president of the NWCA. What do you believe are the critical issues fac- ing college wrestling at this time? Smith: Conference realignment is something we have to get together on.


Coaches may not think its important. It could be we end up with just four confer- ences. The rich are going to get richer. The programs who are not getting the money may have some cuts. Changes are coming, but I don’t know the answer. Also, the dual meet championship is an important thing. We have to have that. I don’t think the individual tournament will grow the sport, but the dual meet tourna- ment can. We need political pressure in Florida, Texas, Georgia, the states with- out Div. I college wrestling. They have good wrestling and good coaches in those states. The kids there don’t have hope. It is wrong for those states not to have a Div. I wrestling team.


USA Wrestler: Talk about your current


Tiger team, and what you believe they are capable of doing this season on the national level. Smith: Right before the season starts, we go on a camping trip. It was interest- ing, with the campfire stories. I told my AD that there is something special about this team. They are close and they do the right things. That is the thing that is mak- ing the season go so fast. They love to be there and want to learn. They enjoy the season and embrace it. We have great leaders. I have the most seniors I have had. This is a year we’ve looked for- ward to. We can accomplish great things.


3 Wrestling Camps


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USA Wrestler 39


John Peterson Olympic Champion


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