The decade of the '90s was a dark one for the Mizzou wrestling program. Sitting in the powerful Big 8 (and then Big XII, though the Texas Four brought nothing to the table in wrestling), the Tigers were often fodder for wrestling royalty in Okie State, Iowa State and Oklahoma. Without a winning season since the 1991-92 campaign, a change was made and former Mizzou All-American Wes Roper was let go as head coach.
What came next was an interesting wrinkle in Mizzou history, so before we get into lauding all the marvelous accomplishments of Roper’s replacement, let’s first make sure we give credit to whom it may be due: In the spring of 1998, and in the days before most Internet message boards (though Tigerboard had been around for about 2.5 years by this point), a surprise move was announced on April 30, 1998. Mizzou A.D. Joe Castiglione was introduced as the new athletic director at the University of Oklahoma. Mizzou would start a national search for his replacement, completing it on July 16, 1998, with the introduction of Mike Alden.
Brian Smith was introduced as Mizzou’s seventh head wrestling coach on May 5, 1998.
We do not know how much of the process Joe C. presided over before his move the week before the introduction. Hell, he could have gone 95 percent of the way. However, the man who introduced Coach Smith at the press conference was the acting A.D. at the time, so I am inclined to give him credit (fairly or otherwise) for the hire. That man, that visionary … was former Mizzou baseball coach and Mizzou hall-of-famer Gene McArtor. Thanks Coach!
At any rate, Coach Smith arrived from Syracuse to inherit a program which had basically bottomed out, even though it had previously boasted 22 All-American finishes in its previous 21 years. In the 15 seasons since, Smith’s wrestlers have achieved 31 All-American finishes, 24 individual conference championships, and four individual national titles and are currently working on back-to-back team conference championships. The Tigers became (at the time) only the 11th school ever to be ranked No. 1 back in 2006. They have excelled in the classroom (14 first-team NWCA Academic All-Americans, dominated by Askrens and McCormicks), and the program is widely regarded as one of the best in the country, with five top-11 national finishes in the past seven years.
Smith’s own accolades are just as impressive, spanning all the way back to his wrestling days at Michigan State, where he was the B1G runner-up at 126 pounds in 1990. He was also lauded as an All-BIG wrestler three times. Following a short stint at Western High School, Smith started to cut his college coaching teeth as an assistant at Cornell from 1992-97. Syracuse hired him on in 1997, and he coached there for one year before coming to Mizzou, where he is now the all-time winningest coach and owner of a dual meet record of 189-85-3. That represents 36 percent of the program's wins in its 68 years of existence. He was recognized as the Dan Gable Coach of the Year in 2007 when the Tigers finished an all-time-best third at the National Championships and rose to No. 1 in the country in December 2006. He was Big XII Coach of the Year on our way out the door in 2012 and MAC Coach of the Year on the way in this past year.
Smith recently completed a stint as president of the National Wrestling Coaches Alliance. He has been integral in the planned introduction of the new team National Duals championship format. He’ll more than likely earn his 200th dual meet win this coming year in a season that features a young cast bolstered by the No. 2 recruiting class in the country. And with any luck, he will do the same or more for the next 15 years.