John Smith, who most recently helped Cal State Fullerton to three successive postseason appearances as the team’s associate head coach, was named head coach of the Cal Poly men’s basketball program on Thursday afternoon. The announcement was made during a press conference by university President Jeffrey D. Armstrong and Director of Athletics Don Oberhelman inside the Cal Poly Performing Arts Center.
“Our coaches are important ambassadors for our Athletics program and, more importantly, key leaders and mentors for our student-athletes in their Cal Poly careers,” Armstrong said. “John has a proven record of leading his student-athletes to success both on and off the court, and we are excited that he has chosen to help champion Learn by Doing and The Mustang Way as he builds a winning culture for our men’s basketball team.”
Smith helped guide the Titans to one of the most successful periods in program history. During Smith’s final three seasons, Cal State Fullerton qualified for the 2018 NCAA Tournament and earned a berth in the College Insider.com Postseason Tournament in both 2017 and 2019. The Titans averaged 18 wins per year over the last three seasons and finished among the top four programs in the Big West Conference standings.
“We are so pleased to welcome John Smith to the Mustang Family,” said Oberhelman. “After a lengthy search process, Coach Smith revealed himself as an outstanding fit for our university and our athletic department. His coaching and teaching experience, commitment to academic excellence, and desire to lead and mentor young men have made him the clear choice for Cal Poly.
“I’d like to thank our fans and ticket holders for their patience as we undertook this process,” Oberhelman added.
During the 2017-18 season, the Titans finished 20-12 and won the Big West Tournament to gain their berth in the NCAA Tournament for just the third time in school history. The Titans finished second in the Big West regular season standings this season and reached the Big West Tournament championship game for a second straight year.
With Smith playing a pivotal role in Cal State Fullerton’s recruiting efforts, eight Titans earned All-Big West honors during his final three seasons.
“I’m very excited and can’t wait to get started,” said Smith. “Cal Poly is a program that I’ve had my eye on for a while and it’s a type of program you want to land at.
“This program has high-character players who are academically driven,” Smith added. “Those are two things that are a precursor for success. It’s a competitive group of players who are capable of being successful within this conference. These were all factors that made the job very attractive to me.”
Prior to his successful tenure at Cal State Fullerton, Smith served as head coach at Riverside City College (2004-13), compiling a 196-87 (.693) overall record – the second-highest win total in school history – while leading the Tigers to four conference championships (2005, 2007, 2010-11), nine postseason berths, five 20-win seasons and the 2009 California Community College Athletic Association state championship (the school’s first in 43 years).
In Smith’s final season at Riverside City College, the 2012-13 Tigers finished 19-9 and posted a 9-3 mark in the Orange Empire Conference. Smith, meanwhile, earned his fifth and final Orange Empire Coach of the Year award.
As head coach and assistant athletics director at San Bernardino Valley College (2000-04), Smith posted an 88-40 overall record while directing the program to the 2003 CCCAA state tournament semifinals. He was named the 2003 Foothill Conference Coach of the Year while leading the program to a league championship.
His junior college coaching record stands at 265-118 (.692). In 2016, the California Community College Men’s Basketball Coaches Association inducted Smith into its Hall of Fame for his outstanding work in building two programs and leading each to the state tournament.
Smith’s coaching resumé also includes positions as an assistant coach at two-year programs College of Southern Idaho and Chaffey College and J.W. North High School (Riverside) and Valley View High School (Moreno Valley, Calif.). He also spent one season as the West Coast scout for the WNBA’s Detroit Shock.
As a player, Smith was a two-time all-league and all-county selection at J.W. North High before playing at UNLV (1987-89). From there, he transferred to Dominican University (San Rafael, Calif.), where he was an NAIA All-California honorable mention selection and all-conference honoree under his brother, Steve.
He graduated from Dominican in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology before earning a master’s degree in kinesiology from Azusa Pacific in 2004.
Smith and his wife, Kelly, have three children. Jamal (21) was a fourth-year junior with the Titans this season, Kianna (19) was a 2017 McDonald’s All-American and currently is a sophomore at University of California, and Kylee (15).
“(San Luis Obispo) is the best part of California,” said Smith. “You have a college town with great weather. The community is supportive. Every time I came here while at Cal State Fullerton, Mott Athletics Center was always packed. That environment is special. I want to continue that trend and take it to another level.”