LOGAN – Craig Smith became familiar with the Utah State basketball team long before he ever stepped foot in Logan. Almost 10 years ago, when he was an assistant coach at Colorado State, he would watch game film to scout his opponents. There were a few times when that film was from USU.
He was impressed with what he saw going on in USU’s arena.
“The spirit and atmosphere was incredible,” Smith said. “I always thought I would love to coach at that place because it is so important to the people.”
With declining ticket sales and an unexceptional win-loss record, Smith is now the guy with the responsibility of bringing that spirit and atmosphere back. So when USU Athletic Director John Hartwell took the podium at the Wayne Estes Center Tuesday morning to introduce Smith as the new head coach, he made it clear that returning the “magic” to the Spectrum is a top priority.
“I can’t’ wait for that to be there every night,” Hartwell said. “I really think that is going to be there every night. It’s not about that building over there, it’s about a culture.”
Hartwell believes Smith can get the atmosphere to what it used to be, and the process has already started. Part of it took place during Smith’s high-energy introductory address, winning Aggie fans over through jokes, an introduction of his family, entertaining with a story of a rattlesnake encounter and talking about how much he wants to join a “mosh pit” in USU’s student section.
Above all, he made it clear he plans on making USU a consistent contender in the Mountain West Conference.
“I know we have the resources in place to be a major, major force in a great conference in the Mountain West,” he said. “That is my expectation. I don’t do well with excuses.
“I will work my hands to the bone to get this program back where it belongs and that is at the top of the Mountain West Conference.”
Smith will immediately have a lot of work. He hasn’t put together his staff yet, and it is still unclear whether or not current players will decide to stay with the team.
Aggie guard Sam Merrill, who will be a junior next season, was at the press conference. He said he thinks USU hired the right person but isn’t sure about who will be staying with the team.
“Going forward if there is anyone that feels like they don’t want to be here, obviously we’ll talk to them and meet with coach and do our best to keep them here,” he said. “I think we have the right guys with a couple pieces added to take a huge step forward.”
Smith said he likes his team to play an attacking style, both on offense and defense, and likes to recruit those that fit the mold. When it comes to recruiting, Smith said he is “incredibly picky.”
“We’re going to get the right guys that are going to play our way,” he said. “That’s aggressive. I love skilled guys.”
USU President Noelle Cockett said she has gotten to know Smith and his family and believes they will fit in well with the USU community.
“I can tell you they are going to bring incredible strength to Utah State in their enthusiasm, their spirit and their ideals,” she said.
Smith came to Utah State from South Dakota, where he spent four seasons as head coach of the Coyotes. He has 22 years of coaching experience, with seven being a head coach.