Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in The Eagle on April 11, 1978.
For the second time in four days, Wichita State University has selected a new head basketball coach.
The first Shocker selection kept the job only overnight. The latest choice is Gene Smithson, who has established an outstanding record in three years at Illinois State.
Smithson was an assistant at Illinois State for four years before becoming head coach. In his first major college head coaching job, he compiled a record of 66 victories, 18 losses, taking his club to two National Invitation Tournaments in the process.
Smithson will be working on a four-year contract paying $40,000 per year. He is reported to have made an estimated $25,000 per year at Illinois State. Smithson’s salary is second in the state among major-college coaches to Jack Hartman, who draws $41,600 at Kansas State. Ted Owens’ salary at KU was $31,000 per year, going into last season.
Smithson, who was named Monday, was not among the 108 candidates that the Wichita State search committee worked with. Smithson said WSU contacted him for the first time Saturday. That would be hours after Bill Olsen, Louisville assistant, caught a plane back home to Louisville after spending the night in Wichita. Olsen’s departure came only four hours before a press conference scheduled to announce his acceptance of the job.
The 37-year-old Smithson said when WSU athletic director Ted Bredehoft first contacted him, “Actually, I indicated I would remain here. But I was impressed with Bredehoft. It is tough to say no to him.”
Smithson was not available for a press conference because he said he had to get cracking on recruiting. He said he will not make his first appearance in Wichita as new head coach until this weekend or early next week.
“I have been on the phone with our recruiting contacts, and I hope to get a lone on the recruits Wichita State was in on,” he said.
It is known that Smithson was working hard on Scooter McCray, a 6-foot-8 standout who was named New York player of the year. He is from Mount Vernon, N.Y.
Illinois State also was battling Michigan State for the signature of Mitch Anderson, who has set scoring records in the Chicago metropolitan area.
Wednesday is national letter day, the first day high school players may sign letters indicating where they intend to attend college. But the new Shocker mentor said he does not expect to be hurt as much in recruiting as the late hour of his selection might indicate.
“Everybody has to go with his recruiting contacts,” he said, Indicating he intends to bring to WSU those players he has been working to sign.
Smithson, a former Paris, Ill., all-stater and standout at North Central College in Naperville, Ill., also has a son is is reputed to be an outstanding point guard.
“He is a fine player, a great player,” said Smithson of 6-foot-3 son Randy, who has played only one year at Illinois State.
Will Randy transfer to Wichita State?
“I don’t know. That will be his decision. I will not exert any influence one way or the other,” said the new coach.
Smithson is known as a strict disciplinarian who stressed defense but whose teams have averaged almost 90 points per game while establishing spreads of 13 to 14 points. The records for the three seasons were 20-7, 22-7 and 24-4.
“The key to defense is in the point spread,” he said. “But the bottom line is that fun in basketball is winning.”
Smithson’s second season as head coach at Illinois State was an historic one. It marked the school’s first appearance in the National Invitation Tournament, which was also its first shot at postseason competition in the major-college ranks.
Smithson said he does not know whom he will hire as assistant coaches. But it is known he plans to bring with him Jeff Jones, an aide on his Illinois State staff.
Jones also has a younger brother, Mike, who was planning to transfer from Illinois University next year. Mike is a 6-5 frontliner who was note getting much playing time at Illinois.
Smithson said he was unable to meet with any of the WSU players. But he indicated he knows the Shockers did not lose any players to graduation and is looking forward to getting together with the squad soon.
He also leaves a strong team at Illinois State, losing only one key player off a squad which compiled a 24-4 record and lost to Indiana State in the first round of the NIT.