Cowboy Wrestling: Q&A With John Smith

There are a lot of words that describe six-time world champion and Oklahoma State wrestling coach John Smith. Words such as determined, intense, competitive, hard working, demanding and champion are many of the words used to describe Smith, but right now the best word would probably be hurting.

He is hurting emotionally after seeing Johny Hendricks, one of his all-time favorite student athletes, lose in his final collegiate match in the NCAA finals. It was bitter-sweet that Hendricks, set to win his third individual NCAA national championship, lost to Smith's nephew, Mark Perry of Iowa.

Physically, Smith is hurting because during spring break he bought his 9-year-old son Joseph a new skateboard and decided to show off a few tricks from his younger days. Smith admitted he's not the skateboarder he once was, and ended up with separated shoulder.

Smith sat down with me on Triple Play Sports' Sportstalk with Robert Allen and Friends and discussed the recently completed season, a fifth-place team NCAA finish coming off four straight national championships and his thoughts as coach in getting the Cowboys back where he himself, OSU fans, and all of collegiate wrestling is used to seeing the Oklahoma State program, on top.

GP: How do you look back at this year's NCAA Championships?
John Smith: I think any time you win four championships in a row it's hard for you to be satisfied by anything else. You've been up at the top. It doesn't matter what you're working with even if you don't have anything, you expect to be up at the top. I think the one thing that I came to realize this year is this group of kids gave me everything that they had. I think when we talked about the "drive for five," I'm not sure I wasn't the only one that was believing in it. Not that they didn't want to, but that this crew was carrying a wall on their back and without any experience to boot and really not totally confident in themselves yet because they, several of them, hadn't had a season (coming off red-shirt freshman years). In the end, I'm not sure we didn't get everything we could. I'm not sure that I would change anything. You tell me we go into the NCAA Championship and Brandon Mason would take fifth, Nathan Morgan would take fourth, Coleman Scott would take second, and Johny Hendricks would take second. I think the only thing I would change would be Johny's match. Other than that I would say that is awesome. I would have liked to see Jared Rosholt do something and Tyler Shinn do something. The draws that we got to start this tournament we just needed a kick start or something to happen for Rosholt to place. I'm not sure Tyler didn't have the best tournament he could have. I knew Newly (McSpadden) wasn't going to give us a whole lot, but Jack Jensen it would have been nice to see him draw someone other than the number two seed. We didn't get any breaks with that draw, especially with this group. I think we needed a little break. You don't hear me say that very often, but just something to give us a kick start. You wake up and see Cole Konrad (top seed at heavyweight) staring you in the face when the draw comes out Monday morning and that's an uphill battle.

GP: There isn't a doubt about it, is there, that Johny Hendricks' loss in the final really hurt?
Smith: You can handle a loss, every athlete has to deal with it. It is just the way it occurred that kind of put us back on our heels. I was just so stunned that I wanted to go find a shovel and dig a hole and bury myself. Johny was very emotional and I had never seen him that emotional. Once we got to the back he was really broken. A couple of mistakes on his part, he felt he had it in control. He got the reversal and he had riding time and I think he just relaxed there for a second. You know he had ridden Mark Perry out for the whole second period and he probably thought he could get away and Mark hit a nice little roll and scored the reversal and then got the back points. I really think if Johny would have chopped him and got him down to his belly then it was over. He just relaxed for a second and it's like in any sport you relax and float for a second and bad things can happen. I think the thing we have to realize is that this guy is a four-time All American. I haven't coached many of them and we haven't had many of them at OSU. Since 1928 there are probably 10 four-time All-Americans. He is a two-time NCAA champion and took fifth as a freshman. For me he was the key person that was going to be instrumental in helping us bring back a championship attitude and championships period. I remember when I was recruiting him back in Edmond he was leaning toward Sooner land. He was close to Teyon Ware and Teyon was heavy influenced to go to OU and they were good buddies. Johny broke that tie to come with us. I'm going to remember a guy that made that commitment to be a Cowboy and gave us everything. He gave us a lot of joy and gave us a lot of opportunities to build our team into a champion. Those type of things happen to you and sometimes propel you to another level.

GP: How did you feel about the team's fifth-place finish?
Smith: I'm not crazy about fifth, but there are a lot of years where what this team did would have put you two or three. It could except for the diversity in this tournament. Fifth just doesn't sound real good. It just doesn't do a whole lot for me, but I look at the guys and they put it out there for me. Brandon Mason did some incredible things. Coleman Scott beating Nick Simmons (second seed) in the semifinals. Nate Morgan, of his five matches, he wrestled five All-Americans, actually four because he wrestled one guy twice. He beat the number three seed twice. Beat him once and had to wrestle him again and showed it was no fluke. The route he had to take (to fourth) every guy he wrestled ended up being an All-American in the tournament. That was impressive. Obviously, Johny up to the last match had a great tournament and there is no question he laid it out there for us.

GP: Is the NCAA Tournament becoming more difficult to win?
Smith: You look at the diversity, parity is coming about. You look at a team like Lehigh, a team that has been in the top five the last several years, (that) finished 33rd. Iowa, with Dan Gable and Tom Brands (coaching), finished eighth. If they hadn't won that match (Perry) against Johny they would have finished out of the top 10. Missouri and Iowa State have jumped up. There is no question it is a different world. People around here seem to think it is automatic, but it is not automatic. Do you know how easy it would have been for this team I worked with this year to finish out of the top 10? It was going to take a lot of work and after the projection with the seeds we were projected ninth. You lose any of those guys and you are out of any kind of race. The big thing for us is to be a little sharper on our recruiting. We got caught with a lot of seniors and really, there were guys that we went with and I was excited about their opportunities. A guy like B.J. Jackson that has been in our room for three years, a guy like Newly McSpadden who had trained very hard for two years preparing somebody else, Jensen has been in our room for three years, I just expect that they learned some lessons and will get better from this point forward.

GP: Is Oklahoma slipping behind Iowa, Pennsylavania, Missouri and others as a wrestling state?
Smith: We need to bring this in-state wrestling up. We had two guys from the state of Oklahoma become All-Americans and one of them was Mark Perry, who left as a freshman (to go to Blair Academy in New Jersey). That is a concern of mine. We need to elevate the level of wrestling in this state. There are a lot of good things going on across the nation and Oklahoma has dropped a little bit competitive-wise, maybe out of the top 10 states in the nation. We need to elevate it up.

GP: You've never made excuses, but as you mentioned some of your unseeded wrestlers drew top seeds, primarily from Minnesota early in the tournament. ESPN said in its coverage that a lot of coaches were questioning the draw and the computer program used as it seemed to favor the Big 10 schools and separated them from facing each other the first two rounds. Do you see the coaches taking an active role to see that the draw is more fair to all schools in the future?
Smith: It should never happen again. I don't think anything intentionally was done. I certainly hope it wasn't. The rule states that you can't hit anyone in your conference in the first round. They extended that out in this tournament to the first two rounds so what happens is when the computer starts to draw it's just kicking out names, kicking out names until one lands. You don't have much choice when the Big 10 is such a large conference that brings 72 of the 300 athletes that are there, you are going to find your guys matched up with Big 10 guys. You are going to wind up with those matches, first round though? I'm sure there were several names kicked out for Cole Konrad for Jared (Rosholt) to end up there. It's what happened and I'm disappointed that the committee isn't more thorough, and I am still trying to find out if the committee knew about it (the two round format) on Monday and Tuesday and didn't change it. It is what it is and I don't think it is intentional. They had a new guy doing the computer bracketing and he used the same formula we use in Division II and III that separates every body the first two rounds, but in Division I has always been only one round. It probably would have given us different draws. You just want to see things done right, especially for the NCAA Championships.

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