Mitch Smith Steps Down as WLU Wrestling Coach
Accepts surgical sales position with Becton Dickinson
WEST LIBERTY — In athletics, coaches make decisions over and over in games or matches. But life is more than athletics.
Wrestling has been a major part of Mitch Smith’s life. That’s why his decision last Friday to step down as head wrestling coach at West Liberty University came as a surprise to many.
“Very hard. Probably the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make in my life,” Smith said Tuesday morning in his office on the WLU campus. “This was very tough because I’m going into a whole different direction as far as a career path goes. It’s something that I’m nervous, but also excited about in the same sense.
“It was a very hard decision to walk away from the sport of wrestling as a college coach. My wife, Cortney, and I have a 4-year-old daughter now, so we’re starting a family. My wife has always been so supportive of me and she knows wrestling has been my whole life. She wanted me to make the right decision for me, but one that also benefits our family. She wanted to make sure I was happy at the end of the day, so it was nice to have her support for this decision.”
Smith has accepted a surgical sales position with Becton Dickinson.
“It’s a pretty big company. They have more than 80,000 employees,” Smith said. “I start April 1.”
He will be in charge of the Pittsburgh area, but will travel to Rhode Island and the East Coast.
Smith scripted a very impressive high school career as a three-time W.Va. state champion at Ripley High School, compiling an astounding 195-3 mark. He was also a two-time USA Wrestling national freestyle champion before enrolling at NCAA Division I Hofstra University. He transferred to West Liberty as a junior and went 58-9 as a Hilltopper, earning NCAA Division II All-American status twice.
When Smith took over the reins four years ago, the program was far from its hey-days under Dr. Vince Monseau. However, under Smith’s leadership, the Hilltoppers have once again become prominent on the Division II scene.
West Liberty hadn’t received mention in the national rankings since 2012, but a couple of solid recruiting classes put the Hilltoppers back in the Top 25 for all of the 2017 campaign.
“It was tough when I first came here because the number of athletes that we had was low and the facilities that we had were not up to what Division II facilities should be,” Smith said.
“When I go into something I want to make sure I leave it better than when I took it over.”
The Hilltoppers’ Darius Bunch was the top 133-pounder in the nation for much of the 2017-18 season — the program’s first since Smith accomplished the fete in 2009 and 2010. Logan Kemp, who will be a senior next season, is a 2-time national qualifier and who came up a win short of earning A-A laurels this past season when he was ranked as high as No. 5.
“Having those two guys in the program is one of the highlights of my stay here, but excelling in the classroom is something that we’ve got back on track, as well,” Smith continued. “Producing academic All-Americans is something that we pride ourselves on we have had more than 10 in my 4 years.
“I know West Liberty wrestling is in a better place now than it was four years ago when I got here.”
In addition to his on-mat credentials, Smith also re-vamped the wrestling room and started an endowment fund to keep the legacy of WLU wrestling alive for the future.
“I think our wrestling room is one of the best in Division II,” he said with some bias. “With everything the kids have as far as resources in the room, the space is great and the lockerroom has been transformed so that all of the extra space is utilized. The guys can come in and sit down and talk and have that camaraderie.
“We also re-did the coaches office space. Now the guy cane come here and watch film, have study halls and we, as coaches, can have recruits here.”
The Hilltoppers have a good nucleus of individuals returning, but Smith has stocked the cupboard with an outstanding recruiting class.
“This new position was something that I was approached about last December, but I was not about to drop the ball as far as West Liberty wrestling was concerned because West Liberty has done so much for me as a wrestler and a person,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I was recruiting the right guys to still come in to the program that can succeed in the classroom and on the mat.”
He said there are nine individuals coming in this fall, with a pair of them being two-time state champions.
“This recruiting class is very solid up and down the list,” Smith said.
West Liberty athletic director Lynn Ullom issued the following statement via the university.
“On behalf of West Liberty University and the athletic department, I want to thank Mitch for his passion and commitment to our school and our wrestling program. Under his leadership, we have been able to transform our wrestling facilities into some of the finest in the region and I’m confident he has put our program in position to achieve great things in the very near future. I wish Mitch and his family all the best. He will always be a part of the West Liberty wrestling family.”
Smith also spent three seasons as the first-ever head coach of the Alderson-Broaddus wrestling program.