SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Craig Smith had his coaching career come full circle when he was named the next men’s basketball head coach in March of 2021.
As a guy that was born and raised in Stephen, Minnesota, Craig Smith didn’t have any ties to the state of Utah that we knew of until he became the head coach of Utah State. After three successful in Logan, Smith became the head coach of Utah basketball.
When Smith joined the Crimson Corner for a live stream on Thursday, he told a story of a Final Four he attended in 1998. That just so happened to be the same Final Four that the Runnin’ Utes played in when they beat North Carolina in the Final Four before losing to Kentucky in the National Championship game in San Antonio, Texas.
“I’ll always remember my second Final Four was in 1998, I was a GA at Northern State and it was my first national championship game,” Smith told KSL Sports. “Of course, the late great Rick Majerus was the head coach and Andre Miller. You go right through the who’s who was on that team, and watching him lose that game. I’ve been a part of losing a national championship game at Mayville State. Obviously, it’s a different level. But that was a defining moment in my life.”
How Watching The 1998 Utah Basketball Team Changed Coach Craig Smith
At that time inside the Alamodome in 1998, Smith didn’t have a team he was rooting for in the Final Four. But he observed the way the Utah program was ran under Majerus and he saw the way they handled losing in the championship game and it motivated him.
“I sat there, all the fans are leaving, and I watch all the University of Utah players walk off that floor and they go through on the side, it was in the Alamodome,” Smith added. “That was a crystallizing moment in my life, where that’s what I want. That’s what I want to be about. Of course, as a coach in college, you not only coach your team, but you’re also the general manager of your team. I’ve studied that team and how they did it and I learned a lot from watching that team. That’s how we’ve tried to build our teams, with character and intelligence and toughness but that team had all that, and obviously had great coaching. They had NBA players and had amazing role players. So I learned so much from that team.”
Smith has a similar winning percentage at Utah State in three years to what Majerus had in 14 seasons at Utah. The Runnin’ Utes had a 323-95 record under Majerus (.773) while the Aggies were 74-24 (.755) in three seasons under Smith.
Craig Smith Is Going To ‘Walk The Walk’
Now that Smith is the head coach of the Runnin’ Utes program, 23 years after the program reached the title game, Smith will need to bring his success to Salt Lake City and bring back the rich tradition.
While he knows it will be a process, Smith feels that the program has all the necessary resources to bring the program back.
“Now I gotta pinch myself,” Smith stated. “Now I’m in that spot and it’s my duty as the head coach and my responsibility to get us back to the promised land. I’m not trying to talk the talk, we plan on walking the walk, and we’re going to do it with great people around us, starting at the top with Mark (Harlan) and all of his administrative staff and the staff that we’re bringing in. Of course, the student athletes that we have currently in place, and that we’re going to recruit here, and it’s a wonderful opportunity. We have everything in place from our resources and now we got to go get it done on our end.”
Trevor Allen is a Utah Utes Insider for KSLSports.com and host of the Crimson Corner podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorASports. You can download and listen to the podcast, here.