One of Oregon State’s own agreed today to take over the football program at his alma mater today. The official introduction will come tomorrow, but word got around late this morning, and by this afternoon, Oregon State Athletic Director had Smith getting off a private plane at the Corvallis air port.
Smith was the quarterback for the Beavers from Halloween Day 1998 in his walk-on freshman year through 2001, and led Oregon State first to the Oahu Bowl, their first post-season game in 36 seasons, and then to the Fiesta Bowl, site of still one of the biggest wins in Beaver History, the 41-9 blowout of Notre Dame that led to finishing ranked 4th in the country.
Standing less than 6 feet tall, Smith was never going to be an NFL quarterback, but he’s become a premier collegiate assistant coach.
After 2 years as a graduate assistant at Oregon State, Smith spent 6 years as the quarterback coach at Idaho. That was a rough stint, as one might expect in Moscow, but it also means Smith understands about being the underdog at an under-resourced program. That mostly losing stint did end with a winning year, and a bowl game in 2009 though.
That was the beginning of a run of 9 straight winning seasons.
Smith then became the Offensive Coordinator as well as the quarterbacks coach at Montana, and the Grizzlies went 7-4 in 2010, and then 11-3 in 2011.
That got him a promotion to become the quarterbacks coach for Chris Petersen at Boise State. The Broncos then went 11-2, including beating Washington in the Las Vegas Bowl, and followed that with an 8-5 season, and a trip to the 2013 Hawaii Bowl. The Beavers kind of spoiled that, with a 38-23 win.
But while that was the last time Oregon State would have a winning season, Smith was off to Seattle along with Petersen, where he’s spent the last 4 years as Smith’s quarterbacks coach and OC.
The last 4 years on Montlake produced an 8-6 run to the Cactus Bowl, a 7-6 season culminated with a win in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, and then last year’s 12-2 Pac-12 Championship team, and a trip to the College Football Playoffs, and the Peach Bowl in Atlanta.
This year, though the Huskies couldn’t repeat as Pac-12 North Division champions, a 41-14 drubbing of Washington State last Saturday produced a 10-2 season, which will result in probably an Alamo Bowl trip, though Smith will be watching the post season for the first time in a long time.
Smith produced offenses that weren’t always spectacular, but there were moments, and more importantly, his offenses have been notoriously efficient.
A much loved and admired person in the eyes of Beaver Believers as much or more than he is appreciated for his on-field results, Smith will get a warm welcome in his return to Corvallis.
This despite being the architect of Husky offenses that over the last 4 years obliterated the Beavers to the tune of 37-13, 52-7, 41-17, and 42-7. Having seen every down of all 4 of those games, I can assure everyone that all 4 games could have been much more lopsided had getting reps for the backups not been a priority.
Or perhaps witnessing these has made Beaver backers all the more impressed.
The rebuild of a team that has won 12 games over those last 4 years, and only 1 this year, won’t be easy.
Who Smith is able to hire in the coming days, and which of the current players he can share a vision that will motivate them to stay on, will be even more important than his being named the new head coach was.
The people Smith has around him will determine how much progress Oregon State can make, and when.
After all, there are reasons prospects ranging from Bryan Harsin to Beau Baldwin, the other favorite of Oregon State investors, and Jeff Tedford, all passed on the opportunity.
In addition to the relative talent and depth of the roster and recruiting class, facilities, funding for staff and assistant salaries, overall institutional support, and infrastructure like the airport, hotels, etc. are all in the bottom quarter of the Pac-12, and not even on par with some Mt. West schools.
And Stanford, playing in the Pac-12 Championship game Friday, and with a shot at a double digit win season, in a down/transition year, isn’t going away. Neither are the Huskies, who are also looking to improve on a 10 win season. Wasington State can post a 10 win season as well.
Oregon just proved they are for real at the Beavers expense.
Down south, USC is back to being the Trojans, and could post a 12 win season. And UCLA just made Chip Kelly their new coach. Anyone really think the Bruins will be an easy out any time soon?
Smith could improve the Beavers by an order of magnitude and it might not show hardly at all in the win column for a while.
But with his 20 years of experience in the Northwest, none of this will take him by surprise, the way it did Gary Andersen, who clearly underestimated what he was getting into in this Pac-12 deal.
If Oregon State can bring itself to make a cultural change on every level, Smith just might be the person to lead a turnaround, even if he’s never been a head coach before. But then being around Dennis Ericksen, Mike Riley, and Chris Petersen at length, Smith has to have learned a few things about how to run a football program.
It should at least be a more interesting next few years than the last few under Andersen were.
Welcome home, Jonathan!
May Beaver Nation help you as much as they would love to follow you!