John L. Smith said it was the best thing for Idaho and Utah State that he accepted the Aggies’ football coaching job.
Smith’s appointment at Utah State was announced at a Tuesday afternoon press conference in Logan. He signed a five-year contract with a base salary of more than $100,000 annually.
“Everyone is asking, ‘Why, why, why?’ but I feel like I was frustrated with myself at Idaho and I felt like I was spinning my tires,” Smith said late Tuesday. “I think it’s the best thing I took this job and I think it’s best for Idaho, too. I felt stale and I don’t know if I was doing everything I could at Idaho.”
Smith acknowledged that Idaho’s lengthy debate over joining the Big West Conference, of which Utah State is a member, did wear on him.
“I think that contributed to my frustration, but it wasn’t a deciding factor,” he said.
He said deciding factors were Utah State’s enthusiasm and the need for a new challenge “to recharge my batteries.”
Utah State wooed Smith in every possible way. From the Lear Jet sent to Moscow to pick up Smith, his wife, Diana, and son, Nick, to Utah State’s boot-wearing, laid-back President George Emert, Smith was dazzled by the Aggies’ desire to beef up their lagging program.
Diana Smith said her husband didn’t see the same signs of support at Idaho. Though Idaho announced it would join the Big West two weeks ago, two months of administrative indecision adversely effected recruiting and damaged athletic department morale.
Coach Smith declined further comment on the topic.
“I think John would normally battle any battle that is out there if in the end he could see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Diana Smith, who attended Utah State from 1967-68. “I think he saw many battles ahead (at Idaho).
“At one point, I remember John told George Emert, ‘This is so refreshing to hear the support coming from the administration.”’
Asked if she felt UI’s delayed decision in joining the Big West was a factor in losing Smith, UI President Elisabeth Zinser said, “Those kinds of things are very speculative. People are always looking for reasons to explain things. The departure of a football coach, in any situation, shouldn’t surprise anyone.”
Of the timing of Smith’s departure, Zinser said, “I was surprised. The institution is losing a fine coach and what is important is he’s gone and we have to face up to that immediately.”
Smith said he did not expect to take heat about leaving for Utah State, despite being an unwavering supporter of UI’s move to the Big West.
“I would hope people would say this was an opportunity that presented itself and I have no control over what happens,” Smith said. “I would hope they say this is a guy who served us well.”
Smith was 53-21 in six seasons, leading Idaho to five playoff appearances and two Big Sky titles.
Vandals players were stunned by Smith’s departure.
“I was absolutely shocked,” said senior-tobe quarterback Eric Hisaw, who learned the news from his parents at Spokane International Airport after returning from a trip. “We’ll be missing a great guy and a great coach. I hope (UI) players don’t leave. We’ve got an awfully talented group and we can still be awfully good.”
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