John Smith Reveals Desire For Another Title

OSU wrestling coach reveals desire for another title

By Bruce Campbell

Remember a few years ago when Oklahoma State wrestling coach reportedly was feeling heat because the Cowboys hadn’t won a national championship since 1994?

After his Cowboys won their third straight championship in March ” the first three-peat for an OSU team since 1954-56 ” the question became, “Can anyone knock the Pokes off the throne?”

The Cowboys return nine regulars, including NCAA champions 149-pounder Zack Esposito, 165-pounder Johnny Hendricks and 197-pounder Jake Rosholt. Also returning are heavyweight Steve Mocco and All-Americans 141-pounder Daniel Frishkorn and 125-pounder Coleman Scott.

“It was a very good year,” Smith said as he watched the recent USA Wrestling Freestyle Junior Duals Championships at Chisholm Trail Expo Center Coliseum. “Our kids wrestled very well.”

Mocco has earned a berth on the U.S. World Cup team. Esposito and Hendricks were eliminated early in those trials.

“Our plans haven’t changed much,” Smith said about the Cowboys going for a fourth straight championship, something they haven’t done in consecutive years since winning six straight from 1937-42.

“We’ll have an older team next year, but that means nothing. You have to earn your championship each year. I’ve liked what I’ve seen our guys do this summer. We’re preparing ourselves for another run at it.”

Smith welcomes the pressure that comes from coaching at the most decorated wrestling school (33 national titles) in the country.

“Pressure can be a positive or it can be a negative,” Smith said. “The pressure that we have had has been a positive for us. It has helped us break records and excel beyond most people’s imagination. That’s something we look forward to and accept.”

Smith has focused much of OSU’s program on freestyle, which he said “has made a lot of difference in our collegiate style.”

Smith was a three-time All-American and a two-time national champion, but he made even a bigger mark internationally by winning Olympic gold medals in 1988 and 1992. In 1991, he was named the James E. Sullivan Award winner as the top amateur athlete in the United States.

“It’s exciting feeling to have a lifetime rewards like that,” he said of his Olympic gold medals. “It’s nice to wake up every day and feel you have done something that you will get to enjoy the rest of your life.”

Smith said the gold medals give him more creditability as a coach at times. But it only goes so far.

“But if you can’t coach, it doesn’t matter,” Smith said. “You have to be able to communicate and translate and get across your point. My staff has done an excellent job of doing that.”

Smith runs the Cowboy Wrestling Club, where former OSU wrestlers can train for their post-collegiate careers. Three ex-Cowboy matmen ” assistant coach Eric Guerrero, Daniel Cormier and Jamil Kelly ” competed in the 2004 Olympics.

Kelly, a three-year letterman but never an All-American, won a silver medal.

“That shows you can progress beyond college,” Smith said. “All of our guys (at Cowboy Wrestling Club) are alumni of the university. That makes a lot of difference in training.”

Smith probably was destined to be a champion wrestler. He was the second of four brothers to wrestle for OSU.

All were All-Americans.

Lee Roy Smith was a three-time All-American and a national champion. Mark Smith was a three-time All-American. Pat Smith was a four-time national champion.

His father, Lee Roy Sr., was one of the guiding forces in junior wrestling in Oklahoma.

The Del City High School Fieldhouse is named in John Smith’s honor.

“I don’t know if it was expected, but excellence is what we strive for,” John Smith said. “It was a very supportive home atmosphere. Win or lose, we always had great support and a great foundation. We always had a good youth program in Del City. It wasn’t just my dad. It was a very healthy area for wrestling.”

University of Central Oklahoma coach David James is another product of the Del City program.

John Smith said college wrestling, which once was losing programs, is gaining more stability. He cited a combined 18 new programs started on the NCAA Division I, III and III and NAIA levels.

“It went through a very tough time in the 1980s an 1990s,” Smith said. “We got some stability now. We got to keep on nose to the grindstone and work very hard for wrestling.”

He said wrestling is beginning to attract better athletes from more diverse areas.

OSU had wrestlers from Tennessee, Washington, Maryland, New Jersey, Missouri, Virginia, Wisconsin, Texas, Iowa, California, Kansas, Idaho and Pennsylvania as well as Oklahoma.

Three of John Smith’s recruits ” El Reno’s Brandon Shelton and Ponca City’s Tyler Shinn and Jarrod Rosholt ” wrestled for Oklahoma in Enid this past weekend.

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