John L. Smith returns to his roots

John L. Smith, Weber State University's new football head coach, watches from the sidelines at a Michigan State University game.

The first time John L. Smith came to Weber State University in the late ’60s, it was to play football. He said that when he first came to the school, he felt as if he had finally made it.

“A few short years ago,” Smith said, “a farm boy from Iona, Idaho, drove down here and got out of his car and walked around and looked at this stadium and thought, ‘You know what? I’ve made it to the big time.’”

Smith, who was named the ninth head football coach in WSU history, said that, while a lot has changed since he first came to WSU, he had similar feelings to the first time he came to Ogden in 1968.

“Since then, I’ve coached where Knute Rockne has, and Bear Bryant,” Smith said. “I’ve been to the Horseshoe (Ohio State University) and to the Big House (the University of Michigan) . . . but I came up here around daylight and drove around seeing the new facilities and got the same sense that I’ve hit the big time. I’m back, and happy to be here, and thankful.”

Throughout high school, Smith excelled at athletics, and when he graduated from high school in 1967, he had lettered in three different sports: football, basketball and track. Smith then came to Ogden, where he played on the WSU football team as a linebacker and quarterback.

Smith graduated in 1971 with a degree in physical education and a minor in mathematics. While at WSU, Smith said he made sure to maintain a balance between athletics and education. He was named the Big Sky Scholar-Athlete as a senior and was an Academic All-American.

After leaving WSU, Smith has coached at many different universities, including the University of Montana, Michigan State University and, most recently, the University of Arkansas, but he said it was easy to make the decision to return to Ogden.

“I’ve always had a place in my heart for Weber State,” Smith said. “You do that naturally; that’s your school, it’s where you graduated from. That fondness and that love has always been there. To come back and to run your own program is great.”

Smith said WSU has given him so much, and that a chance to be able to repay the institution was one of the main reasons he came back to Ogden.

“This can hopefully serve as an opportunity for me to give back to the university,” Smith said. He then paused and added, “And there’s a ski hill right here.”

Jerry Bovee, WSU athletic director, said that, over the course of a month, he interviewed many candidates and traveled across the country in search of the best possible fit for WSU. In the end, Bovee said, Smith had a number of characteristics that made him ideal for the position.

“We were looking for someone who understands the culture of our state,” Bovee said, “and how to recruit here . . . someone who would run the program with integrity, keep all the rules and do it the right way. The fact that he’s an alum was also important. He has a deep-seated love for Weber State.”

Smith said he has lofty goals for WSU and wants the team to become national champions, and that he looks forward to continuing to build upon the foundation that former Head Coach Ron McBride laid at WSU. Smith will spend the rest of the offseason assembling his coaching staff and recruiting.

WSU will play its first game under Smith on Sept. 1, 2012, when the Wildcats will take on Fresno State University in Fresno, Calif.