Saturday, April 13, 2024

Thank You John Smith


My heart sunk a little when I read of John Smith's retirement the other day.  I thought about making a quick Twitter or Facebook post about it, but the more I thought about it, I realized Twitter or Facebook wasn't going to cut it.  John Smith deserves so much more than a few words on Twitter or Facebook. There's so much that he did for the sport.  So many ways in which he revolutionized the sport and was a trailblazer for both wrestlers and coaches. 

Growing up a fixated wrestling fanatic, whenever someone said the name John Smith, I think I was the only one who didn't think about an old white imperialist and Pocahontas.  To me John Smith was the wrestler/coach, the legend from Oklahoma State. 

Now I know in wrestling we've had our Danny Hodge's as wrestlers, and we've had our Swede Umbach's as coaches.  I'm not trying to claim that John Smith was the first southerner in either category, but I will say he is the most known and the most prolific.  Let's face it, wrestling is a "northerner's sport."  When you stop and think about all of the figure heads and most popular wrestlers in the world, we're usually talking guys from the West, Midwest and Northeast. 

I'd argue that the three time BIG 12 champ, two-time NCAA DI champ that won 10 gold medals between the Olympics, Worlds, Pan-American & Goodwill Games, helped paved the way for many southern greats who came after him.  As a wrestler in what all he achieved, I think he makes the case for the greatest wrestler to ever come out of the south.  

I think he makes an even stronger case as the greatest wrestling coach that has ever come out of the south.  490 dual wins.  5 NCAA DI team titles & 21 BIG 12 team titles.  33 DI individual champions, 152 All Americans. 129 individual BIG 12 champs.   Not to mention a coach for both the 2000 & 2012 Olympic teams.   Been other great coaches from southern states, but you tell me any of them that have a better resume.  May I also add that all in all, Smith had five of his wrestlers go on to be Olympians, including silver medalist Jamil Kelly & bronze medalist Coleman Scott. 

On a personal level, I've got to meet Coach Smith a handful of times and each time was very pleasant. I'm sure the first time I met him as a 9-year-old decked out in Iowa State apparel at a dual in Ames, he wasn't crazy about my clothes. Nonetheless he still shook my hand and autographed my program.  Years later he spent some time on the phone with my dad and free of charge, sent me a signed Oklahoma State wrestling media guide, with a signed copy of his book COWBOY UP.   Then once at the NCAA's, shared an elevator with him, his wife and his children. Didn't like the Iowa hat I was wearing but did like it when I told him my favorite wrestler was Johnny Thompson.  

I have many great memories of John Smith, but I would have to say my very favorite has to come from the 2003 NCAA championships. In an interview Smith was asked about winning the team title, as the interviewer brought up individual national champions, Johnny Thompson, Jake Rosholt and Steve Mocco.  Smith responded how important their contributions were, but stressed how important it was for other wrestlers on his team to come back and wrestle strong through the consolations.  "You gotta be hungry for 3rd" stressing how important backside wrestling can be in the team race. He really put a lot of emphasis on Shane Roller's epic 3rd place run, which included a 34 second fall over the previous year's NCAA DI champion, Luke Becker of Minnesota. I loved that attitude and that perspective.  It was a great time for Smith and for Oklahoma State. 

As wrestling continues to grow in an assortment of ways, I think we look around Texas, Georgia, Kentucky, Florida, Alabama and other southern states that are continuously getting better and in partial John Smith can be thanked for that. He was the catalyst that said not only can good wrestlers come from the south, not only can great wrestlers come from the south, but some of the very best wrestlers can come from the south. 

John Smith was a television analyst for both the 2016 and 2020 Olympic games.  He's way too valuable to our sport to not in some way or another continue being a part of it.  I would hope that more play by play and color commentary opportunities await him in the future. 

As always there is more I could say and I hope I gave Coach Smith the fitting dedication he deserves.  He's one of the all time best.  One of those as both a wrestler and as a coach, that made Johnnythompsonnum1 into the wrestling enthusiast that I am.  

No comments:

Post a Comment