VERMILLION, S.D. | Twitter universe was awash with rumors the last couple of days concerning University of South Dakota head men’s basketball coach Craig Smith.
And, that’s all they turned out to be. A bunch of unsubstantiated rumors.
If you believe everything you read on Twitter, by now Smith would be the new head coach at Drake University.
Late Wednesday night, there was a report that Smith had accepted the Drake job, some even saying that he would be paid $350,000 per season.
Smith himself put an end to the speculation by posting “We are South Dakota” on his own Twitter profile, along with a photo of the USD team.
On Thursday, South Dakota athletic director David Herbster said Smith had verbally agreed to a three-year contract worth $275,000 per season. Smith had been working under a one-year contract that paid him $195,700.
Herbster, though, said contract talks with Smith had taken place long before talk of him leaving began to hit social media.
“Craig and I had been having conversations since before the end of the season and had conversations last year,” Herbster said. “All of that was just kind of distractions and noise for us.
“And, it’s unfortunate, too, because when things like that get out and are in some cases fabricated, what people don’t realize is that you’re dealing with real people and real people’s lives and families. And that’s tough.”
Smith’s new contract still must be approved by the South Dakota Board of Regents, but when that takes place, the school will have once again stepped to the plate and hit a home run.
Remember, in the past couple of years, Herbster has lured football coach Bob Nielson from Western Illinois and women’s basketball coach Dawn Plitzuweit from Northern Kentucky, signing them each to multi-year deals. To me, that means USD is firmly committed to athletic excellence.
Herbster said a year ago Smith had been offered a multi-year deal but chose instead to sign for one year.
A decision last year by the South Dakota Board of Regents made it possible for South Dakota and South Dakota State to offer as much as a three-year contract. After all of the chatter the last couple days, USD just had to finalize the contract amount and terms with Smith.
Smith, by the way, was not available for comment on Thursday.
“Craig has the contract, his agent has to get it and they sign it, then we get it back and I submit it to the president and he signs it and we still have to get it approved by the Board of Regents,” Herbster said. “All of those things are in place. I don’t see a whole lot changing between now and then but what I’ve learned over the years is that nothing’s done until it’s done.”
Herbster said he couldn’t speak directly about other school’s searches but added that nobody had contacted him.
The reality is, with a dynamic young coach like the 44-year-old Smith, who guided the Coyotes to a 22-11 record and the Summit League regular season title this season, chances are that this situation will resurface again at some point.
“The expectations that are placed on programs and sometimes that they even place on themselves to win championships and go to the postseason, well that’s one of the expectations that also comes with it,” Herbster said. “Because that’s something the fans demand, season ticket holders want, alumni want. But part of that too is, as you elevate the status of the program, more people take notice of you.”
The Coyotes were picked to finish last in most preseason Summit League polls but won the title with a 12-4 mark and earned the program’s first NIT berth. After an 87-75 loss at Iowa, Smith’s stock continued to rise, culminating with the Drake rumors on Wednesday.
Longtime friend and colleague Mick Garry, the USD beat reporter for the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, spoke with sophomore All-Summit League performer Matt Mooney. He told him that Smith addressed the players on Wednesday night to tell them he wasn’t going anywhere, but not before the players went through some tense moments while following Twitter.
“When we got the word he was staying here at USD it was really tough to explain the emotions we had,” Mooney told the Argus Leader. “Extremely happy. We all let out deep breaths. It was that feeling you get when you think something really bad is going to happen but something really good happens. He’s our coach, he’s our leader and he’s a big reason I came here.”
“Craig is a man of integrity, a coach who has values and has built something here,” Herbster said. “USD is a pretty special place. He understands that or he wouldn’t have come here or he doesn’t stick around.”