|Smith with Richland senior John Rizzo at regionals|
Photo by Justin Dennis
It seems that, even in paradise, the sport of wrestling finds me.
Of course, in my world, paradise must include some bit of wrestling.
I got a text at 3:30 this morning (Hawaiian time) that Tom Smith has resigned as head wrestling coach at Richland. I wrote a story about it for The Tribune-Democrat that will appear in Thursday's editions.
It wasn't a complete surprise to me that Smith stepped down. He's never really been a "wrestling guy," and he'll admit as much. He never wrestled and had limited exposure to it as a Bishop McCort and St. Francis grad.
I remember when I first heard that Smith had been named the head coach at Richland four seasons ago. What were the Rams thinking? Replacing a successful coach like Dan Sichak with someone who didn't know anything about the sport?
Surely such an experiment would be a dismal failure.
But then I spoke with Smith via telephone about his decision for a column that I wrote at the time.
I still wasn't completely convinced that it was a wise move to take a football guy and put him in charge of the wrestling program, but he certainly talked a good game. Plus, he hired quality assistants to do what he couldn't - mainly coach wrestling. Smith handled the off-the-mat duties that take up so much time for head coaches while letting the others do their thing on the mat.
The arrangement worked out much better than I would have initially guessed. Smith, who was the defensive coordinator for the football team and the school's strength coach, was able to recruit more wrestlers to a team that had just six members the previous season.
Smith had a state placewinner in each of his four seasons, thanks to John Rizzo, who won took fifth as a freshman before winning three consecutive titles.
"That is unbelievable," Smith said. "I never expected that. We knew coming in that he’d be special, but we didn’t know he’d win three state titles."
Smith said that Rizzo's leadership skills were as important to the Rams over the years as his wrestling acumen.
The outgoing coach also was quick to credit his coaches - past and present - for the development of Rizzo and the program as a whole. Mike Naglic and Thad Benton were critical cogs in the coaching machine this season, and I'd think that Naglic will be the favorite to take over as head coach next season with Benton as his assistant. That's assuming that each wants to move up a peg on the coaching ladder, which seems logical with Naglic's son, Nick, still in the program.
All in all, it turned out to be a pretty successful run for Smith. His teams never had a losing record and the Rams made the district duals this past season. He had just six returning wrestlers when he took over the program. The next coach will have 20.
But, as always, Smith was quick to deflect credit, saying that the wrestlers deserve the credit for turning around the program.
"All of these kids here trusted (the decision to hire me)," he said. "They didn’t say, ‘What the heck is he doing here?’ It could have been a real disaster."
Best of luck to Coach Smith in the future, as he concentrates on his family, principal duties and football team.