It’s been more than a week since Utah State Vice President and Director of Athletics John Hartwell told a local radio show that the contract of men’s head basketball coach Craig Smith had been extended.
The coach himself addressed it briefly when asked last week during his weekly Zoom press conference. On Monday, it was officially announced by the university that Smith’s contract was extended through the 2025-26 season.
“We are excited to announce this extension of Craig’s contract,” Hartwell said in a press release. “In less than three years he has established a consistent standard of excellence in our men’s basketball program. Coach Smith understands and excels at all aspects of a successful program from recruiting, to player development, to opponent scouting, to community relations and all points in between. Under Craig’s leadership, we look forward to continued success in the Mountain West Conference and on a national level.”
According to Smith, the contract was agreed upon right when the 2020-21 season was beginning. He explained how his family “loves” Cache Valley. Smith went on to share that his oldest son is a sophomore at USU, his next two sons a junior and freshman at Green Canyon High School and his daughter is in fifth grade.
“We love Utah State. It’s been an amazing place for our family and a great move for our family. We love it here,” Smith said. “It is a tremendous league. We are surrounded by amazing people from top to bottom, including our athletic director John Hartwell, the athletic department, our coaches, our staff, our players, the people living in Cache Valley and the entire Aggie family. I’ve been in this business for a long time, 25 years, and this has been a phenomenal place to live and a great experience. We are excited to continue this journey at Utah State.”
The new contract begins with a base salary of $775,000 for this season. Each year it increases by $25,000. In the final year (2025-26), Smith will make $900,000. Over the six years, it is worth $5.025 million.
Should some other school come after Smith, the buyout is 25 percent of whatever is remaining of his base salary.
With Smith at the helm, USU has captured back-to-back Mountain West Tournament titles — one of just four teams in league history to accomplish that feat — and a share of the 2018-19 MW regular season championship. Overall, USU is 68-22 under Smith, including a 38-13 mark in league play. Smith’s .771 winning percentage against MW competition over the last three years is second in league history behind Dave Rose at BYU (.781) and ahead of Eric Musselman at Nevada (.741), Brian Dutcher at San Diego State (.726) and Rick Majerus at Utah (.698).
Smith, the 2019 MW Coach of the Year, led the Aggies to an overall mark of 28-7 during the 2018-19 season, marking the most victories by a first-year head coach at USU and the third-most wins in school history. That season, the Aggies earned the No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the highest in program history, and logged school records of 2,753 points and 147 blocks.
Last season, USU captured its second-consecutive MW Tournament championship and was one of the first teams in the nation to punch its ticket to the NCAA Tournament before it was ultimately canceled because of COVID-19.
This season, USU is 14-7 overall, including an 11-4 mark in the conference, and in the hunt for the regular season MW title. The Aggies are one of the best defensive teams in the country and rank among the top 25 in the nation in defensive field goal percentage (.395, 18th) and scoring defense (63.0, 25th). USU is also dominant on the glass, outrebounding every opponent this season and carrying a rebounding margin of plus 10.4 to rank third in the nation.
After almost 10 years as a head coach, Smith has an overall mark of 219-105, including three years at Mayville State (72-29), four years at South Dakota (79-55) and currently his third year at USU (68-22).
The Aggies host Nevada this Friday and Sunday in their last scheduled regular season games of the season. However, the following week is free and USU has had three MW games postponed and is hopeful to make some of them up before the conference tournament the following week.
NO FANS AT MW TOURNEY
After several weeks of discussion, the MW announced Monday afternoon that upcoming men’s and women’s conference tournaments would be held without fans.
A press release stated: “After thorough consideration of all factors and alternatives, the Mountain West has determined it is unable to accommodate fans for the upcoming basketball tournament scheduled for March 7-13 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. While sensitive to the desire to allow family and friends of the student-athletes, as well as additional fans, the overriding factor became the health and well-being of the tournament participants. Given new information regarding variants of the coronavirus and the uncertainties involved, this is the most prudent course of action to mitigate risk to the most significant degree possible.”
The only people that will be allowed to enter the Thomas & Mack Center are participating teams, game officials, tournament staff, TV partners, limited credentialed media and other support personnel included on the team’s official pass list.
“The support of our fans has made the Mountain West Tournament one of the most thrilling events in college basketball on an annual basis,” said MW Commissioner Craig Thompson in a press release. “The health and well-being of our student-athletes and coaches are of vital importance. We are best able to provide a clean and controlled environment by only permitting those directly involved with the tournament’s conduct into the facility. It is also essential to protect the opportunity for those teams who are successful in advancing to compete in the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships according to the protocols established for those events.”
The MW Network will live stream every women’s game from the tournament beginning on Sunday, March 7. On Wednesday, March 10, the championship final will be televised on CBS Sports Network.
The men’s first-round contests begin on Wednesday, March 10, and will be lived streamed on the MW Network. CBS Sports Network will televise the quarterfinal and semifinals on Thursday, March 11, and Friday, March 12, while the men’s championship final will air on CBS on Saturday, March 13.