Believe whatever you want, but Craig Smith says he is right where he wants to be.
“I’m the head coach at the University of South Dakota and I’m proud of it,” Smith said Friday.
That was his first public comment since reports surfaced earlier in the week that he had verbally committed to become the head coach at Drake University.
On that note, Smith offered a very brief albeit firm response.
“What has been reported is simply not true. I am the head coach at the University of South Dakota and did not accept any other position,” he said.
The idea that Smith might be receiving interest from other schools should come as no surprise to anyone that paid attention this season. All he did was guide the Coyotes to their first Summit League Championship, as well as the program’s first-ever berth in the National Invitation Tournament.
Success like that always generates attention. Factor in his a-plus personality and it is easy to see why Smith would be desirable to Drake, let alone other schools that might be in the market for an up-and-coming coach.
Was there interest from Drake? Yes.
Did Smith listen to what they had to say? That much was confirmed through multiple sources, a few of whom told me that Smith was, in fact, offered the job.
However, as indicated by Smith, there was never any sort of commitment made to the Bulldogs.
Smith's plan all along was to stay at South Dakota.
“My vision at the University of South Dakota is aligned with our administration’s vision and President Abbott’s vision and it’s very exciting to be a small part of that,” Smith said.
“David Herbster and I have been discussing it for quite some time. You go through the course of the season and there just becomes a lot of moving parts. That’s always the hard part. Personally, I know how entrenched I get in the season with our players, with game planning, with how we need to get better. Sometimes those things take a back seat because of all the immediate things that need to get done. I was excited when we were able to come to a verbal agreement, an understanding, with the contract and it sure is exciting that we were able to elevate our program, in a lot of ways, with the contract verbally in hand.”
The most interesting details that emerged from those discussions were the terms of Smith’s new contract.
As first reported by Argus Leader Media’s Mick Garry on Thursday, the deal - pending Board of Regents approval - is for three years at $275,000 per year.
That is a significant raise over his previous salary of $196,000, but it is still well below the $300,000 that T.J. Otzelberger is currently paid at South Dakota State.
Many, including myself, assumed any new deal would at least pull Smith even with his in-state coaching counterpart.
The fact that the finances fell short of that may have come as a surprise to some of us, but Smith was unfazed. He is perfectly content with the numbers.
“My wife and I are the type of people, we’re not into comparisons,” Smith explained. “I don’t compare my house to the neighbor’s house. I don’t compare my car to your car. All we concentrate on is making ourselves the best that we can be, our program the best that it can be, and we want to be treated right. We’re excited about it. When you look back to where we were three years ago to where we are now, our program has improved, our administration has made a commitment to excellence and that is easy to see.”
Smith’s commitment to excellence has been every bit as evident. The fact is he has earned a little more security. David Herbster made sure he got it. And there was nothing last minute about it.