Big 12

John Smith Retires After Legendary Career As Oklahoma State Coach

John Smith Retires After Legendary Career As Oklahoma State Coach

Oklahoma State coach John Smith announced Thursday that he is retiring after 33 years as the Cowboy wrestling coach.

Apr 11, 2024 by Andy Hamilton
John Smith Retires After Legendary Career As Oklahoma State Coach

John Smith pondered retirement at various times during his 33-year tenure as Oklahoma State’s head coach but never made the move to leave the Cowboy corner. 

Until Thursday. 

The iconic Oklahoma State coach announced he’s retiring after a legendary career that included 490 dual wins, five national championships and 21 conference titles. 

Smith took over as the co-head coach at Oklahoma State in 1991 as a 26-year-old in the midst of an incredible competitive career. A year later, he won his second Olympic gold medal, finished his run of six consecutive World-level titles as an athlete and went full throttle into coaching, taking over the Cowboy program.  

Smith led Oklahoma State to the 1994 NCAA title and then reeled off four consecutive national championships beginning in 2003. He’s one of seven coaches in Division I history with five national titles. 

Smith said last year that he had considered retirement at a time when the Cowboys stood on top of the college wrestling mountain, but he kept going and continued piling up victories. His 490 dual wins are third on the all-time Division I victory list behind Dale Thomas (616) and Harold Nichols (492).  

“I take it a day at a time, a year at a time,” Smith said after Oklahoma State’s final match of the 2023 NCAA Championships. “I think after my 15th season I was thinking about retiring, and for some reason I didn’t. Now I’m here 16 years later. I’m not kidding, I really did think about it and almost did it. 

“It takes some off time to really evaluate everything.”

The Cowboys went 14-1 in duals this past season and finished 10th at the NCAA Championships. It was Oklahoma State's 27th top-10 finish under Smith, which ranks one behind Nichols on the all-time list. 

From Oklahoma State sports information: 

STILLWATER – Oklahoma State legend John Smith announced his retirement Thursday, ending a 33-year run as head coach of the Cowboy wrestling program. The legacy of his career is astounding.

Under his watch, OSU produced five NCAA team championships, 33 NCAA individual championships, 490 dual wins, 153 All-America honors, 23 team conference championships, 132 individual conference championships and two Hodge Trophy winners. His accomplishments place him among the top coaches in the history of the sport.

Smith, 58, is the longest tenured wrestling coach in Oklahoma State history and trails only James Wadley (men's tennis) and Henry Iba (men's basketball) as the longest tenured head coaches at OSU, regardless of sport.

His 490-73-6 career dual record gives him the most wins in school history and the third-most wins in the history of Division I wrestling. His numbers for All-Americans, conference championships and individual conference champions are the most at OSU by a wide margin and are believed to be the most in NCAA wrestling history.

He also coached his teams to eight perfect dual season records, an all-time conference record of 171-24-5 and 21 top-five finishes at the NCAA Championships. His wrestlers won better than 70 percent of more than 16,000 bouts during his time as head coach and went on to claim double-digit spots on Team USA at the world level.

"It has been an honor to coach for more than 32 years at the same institution," Smith said. "I can't even begin to tell you what Oklahoma State has done for me, my wife, my immediate family and brothers and sisters who all graduated from OSU. My journey started at age 17 here at Oklahoma State and it has allowed me to accomplish everything I ever wanted."

Beyond the numbers, Smith is recognized widely for his contributions to the sport. He is a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, a two-time selection as the National Wrestling Coaches Association coach of the year and a 15-time selection as conference coach of the year. He was also the first wrestler to be inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame and is a member of the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame.

"Coach Smith is a hero and truly the greatest of all time," OSU Athletic Director Chad Weiberg said. "John has dedicated his life's work to Oklahoma State University, Cowboy Wrestling and the sport. Although the decision comes with much emotion for him and for us, he felt the time was right to retire. Because we have so much respect for him, we will respect his decision and honor and celebrate his exceptional contributions and loyalty to Oklahoma State. John will continue to support the program as a lifelong Cowboy and due to his efforts, we know great things are yet to come for Cowboy Wrestling."

Some of Smith's most prominent pupils include Olympic medalists Coleman Scott and Jamill Kelly, Hodge Trophy winners Steve Mocco and Alex Dieringer, other multiple-time NCAA champions Pat Smith, Mark Branch, Eric Guerrero, Johnny Thompson, Jake Rosholt, Chris Pendleton, Johny Hendricks, Jordan Oliver, Chris Perry and Dean Heil, as well as five-time All-American Daton Fix and four-time All-Americans Branch, Dieringer, Guerrero, Hendricks, Tyrone Lewis, Oliver, Rosholt, Scott, Smith and Thompson.

Smith also coached at the world level, coaching Team USA at the Olympics in 2000 and 2012, at the World Championships in 1998, 2009, 2010 and 2011 and at the World Cup in 1997. He coached the USA Women's Cadet World Team in 2018.

Prior to taking over as Oklahoma State head coach in 1992, Smith put together a wrestling career that squarely places him in the conversation for the greatest American wrestler ever.

He won six consecutive world championships as a competitor from 1987-92, including gold medals at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul and at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. He also won two gold medals in two attempts at the Pan American Games, two gold medals in two attempts at the Goodwill Games and two NCAA individual championships for Oklahoma State.

His Cowboy wrestling career also included three All-America honors, three conference championships, the NWCA Collegiate Wrestler of the Year award and more than 150 career wins to rank as the most in program history.

In 1990, he became the first wrestler to win the James E. Sullivan Award for the nation's top amateur athlete.

In addition to the already mentioned international honors, Smith received the Amateur Athletic Foundation World Trophy (1992), was the first American to earn FILA's Master of Technique Award (Best technical wrestler in the world, 1990), and earned the U.S. Olympic Committee Sportsman of the Year (1990), FILA Outstanding Wrestler of the Year (1991), USA Wrestling Athlete of the Year (1989), Amateur Wrestling News Man of the Year (1988) and U.S. Olympic Committee Titan Award (2004). He was also named one of the 100 Greatest Olympians of All-Time (1996) and is a member of the FILA Hall of Fame (2003), AAU Wrestling Hall of Fame (2024), Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame (1997) and NCAA 75th Anniversary Team (2005).

Smith's international record was 100-5, and his domestic freestyle record was 77-3. Combined with his collegiate totals of 152-8-2 and his high school marks of 105-5, he competed 458 times for his school, club, or country and won 436 times, for a success rate higher than 95%.

Coleman Scott will serve as the interim head coach of the Cowboy Wrestling program.