2013 Top Sports Stories: Tom Smith Steps Down

Published 12/28 2013 10:58PM

Updated 12/28 2013 11:18PM

(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) Forty-six years of Tom Smith's life were dedicated to coaching the game of basketball, and through the stops during his career, and all the wins, it's the people he met along the way that are sticking with him.

"Relationships were the name of the game for me. It wasn't teaching basketball, it was relationships," Smith said looking back on his career.

Smith retired as head men's basketball coach at Missouri Western in March.

"(Careers) are measured in wins and banners and MIAA Championships, but more important to him and me are the relationships with all the former players," Smith's assistant of 14 years Mike Nicholson said. "It makes you feel good. It makes you feel like Coach Smith and yourself had and impact on these kids lives."

After serving as a student assistant at his alma mater, Valparaiso, Smith's first full time job took him to the NCAA Division I Elite Eight in 1971.

"I couldn't really get a high school job. I tried to get a couple high school jobs, and ended up with a tremendous coach -- Maury John at Drake. So I couldn't get a high school job, and I got a college job with a team that had been to the Final Four in 1969."

After learning at the Division I level, he moved to his first head coaching job in 1975 at Central Missouri. From '75-'80 Smith's teams posted a 86-46 record. He then moved on to the head position at Valpo, but only won 84 games in eight seasons. He began at Missouri Western during the 1988-1989 season, and went on to win 448 games for the Griffons.

"Coming back here, and being successful almost immediately, I wasn't going to give that up," Smith said.

Smith finished his basketball coaching career with 618 victories, and is the winningest coach in MIAA history.

Despite retiring in March, he's already on to his next challenge: women's tennis coach at Western. It's a completely different sport, but Smith says it still has similar qualities as basketball -- the sport that consumed him for nearly 50 years.

"Women's tennis is no different than men's basketball in the sense that you better get players. You better have good players."

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