Let a new era of Columbia men’s basketball begin.
After three weeks and a national search effort, the Columbia athletic department has announced St. Mary’s associate head coach Kyle Smith as the new head men’s basketball coach, athletic department officials confirmed Sunday afternoon.
“Columbia University is very proud and excited to name Kyle Smith as our head men’s basketball coach,” Athletic Director M. Dianne Murphy said in an official statement on Sunday. “Kyle is an outstanding leader and successful recruiter with a terrific basketball mind. We are thrilled to welcome him to Columbia.”
A press conference introducing the new coach is scheduled for Wednesday.
In taking his first-ever head coaching job, Smith will replace former Columbia head man Joe Jones, who left Morningside Heights to join former Cornell coach Steve Donahue’s staff at Boston College.
“I am very excited to be the next head men’s basketball coach at Columbia, one of the nation’s premier universities,” Smith said in a statement. “I am very grateful to Dr. M. Dianne Murphy and President Lee C. Bollinger for this tremendous opportunity. I look forward to the challenge of building an Ivy League championship men’s basketball program at Columbia.”
Smith was the top assistant for the St. Mary’s squad that garnered national attention by beating both seventh-seeded Richmond and second-seeded Villanova in the NCAA tournament this spring to advance to the Sweet 16. The Gaels also surprised national powerhouse Gonzaga, a No. 5 seed this March, in the West Coast Conference tournament, taking the league title and paving the way for their upset run. The Gaels finished their 2009-2010 campaign with a 28-6 record and broke into the top 25.
Light Blue players look forward to picking up right where Smith left off at St. Mary’s last season.
“I mean, obviously St. Mary’s had a great run this year, they’ve been a great program in the past, and he’s been a big part of that,” sophomore Steve Egee said. “I think he’s going to have great success here, and I’m very excited about being a part of his team and his program.”
Egee was one of three players to actively participate in the coaching search. Egee, freshman Brian Barbour, and sophomore Noruwa Agho formed the players committee that met with each of the top candidates and gave feedback at the end of the search process.
“He’s really excited to step into the position, and he wants to win,” Barbour said. “I feel like he’s a hard-working guy who will get it done for us.”
“I’m looking forward to moving forward with the program with coach Smith,” Egee added.
Smith inherits a Columbia squad that went 11-17 (5-9 Ivy) in the 2009-2010 season. The Lions lost a talented senior class in Patrick Foley, Niko Scott, and Kevin Bulger, but they return Agho, their leading scorer. The rising junior contributed 16.3 points per game and earned second-team all-Ivy honors.
Barbour pointed to the returning talent and Smith’s work ethic as indicators of a promising 2010-2011 season.
“An Ivy League championship—I mean, that’s always our goal. And especially next year with the guys we have returning, I really think that that’s our main goal we always strive for,” he said, adding that Smith “works very hard, spends extra time after practice and everything. It’s going to be his hard work that’s going to get us to the next level, I think.”
Before joining Randy Bennett’s staff at St. Mary’s, Smith spent eight seasons at San Diego and one at the Air Force Academy. Smith served as the chief of recruiting and the offensive coordinator on both staffs. While working under Bennett, the program saw the type of turnaround that attracted the attention of Columbia’s search team.
The year before Smith arrived, the Gaels recorded only two wins. In the final three seasons of his nine-year stay, Smith helped guide St. Mary’s to 81 wins.
“He will be very successful,” Bennett said in the official release. “He has been a huge part of what we’ve done [at St. Mary’s]. It’s been he and I together—it’s been like having a co-coach.”
Smith will have a tall order in replacing the departed Jones, who accumulated an 86-108 record (39-59 Ivy) in turning around a floundering program that went just 2-25 before his arrival.
“We are committed to excellence in men’s basketball at Columbia,” Murphy said in the release. “We have the utmost confidence that Kyle Smith will build and sustain a high-achieving men’s basketball program in Morningside Heights.”
Smith was in charge of offensive schemes and the recruiting program at St. Mary’s. As he adjusts to the Ivy League, that experience will be crucial in turning the Lions’ program from one that has hovered around .500 in conference play into a contender for hardware on a yearly basis. While the league’s rigorous admissions make the recruiting trail even more difficult, Cornell drew up a blueprint for success on a national scale with its shrewd recruiting and high-powered offense.
At the same time, Egee explained that Smith will bring more than just a knack for reeling in talent and drawing up offensive schemes. “I think coach Smith possesses a lot of qualities that are very valuable in a head coach, like his leadership, hard work, and accountability for his players,” Egee said.
Smith’s hiring finishes off a series of coaching changes in what has already been a busy offseason for the Ivy League. Donahue and Jones, close friends during their time as Ancient Eight rivals, move off to Boston College, and they were responsible for half of the four open coaching positions.
Penn and Dartmouth, which both experienced mid-season coaching changes after disappointing starts, recently named their permanent coaches. The Quakers retained former interim coach Jerome Allen, and the Big Green brought Paul Cormier back to Hanover, N.H. after stints at Fairfield and in the National Basketball Association as an advance scout for various organizations. Cormier spent seven seasons as the Dartmouth head coach from 1984-1991. Cornell hired former UVA and Virginia Tech assistant Bill Courtney as Donahue’s successor, leaving Columbia to conclude the coaching carousel with Smith’s introduction this week.