Tom Smith accomplished what he set out to do, and now it’s time for him to move on to something else.
Smith, who coached John Rizzo to three state championships and oversaw the resurgence of the Richland wrestling program, told The Tribune-Democrat that he has resigned after four seasons as head coach of the Rams.
“This program – they were going to kill it,” Smith said of the state Richland wrestling was in back then. “With names like Pecora and Naglic, and Rizzo, for them to not have a chance to wrestle, that would have been wrong.”
Instead, Smith – who never wrestled and admitted from the start that he didn’t have much knowledge about the sport
– took the job and set about rebuilding the program by hiring quality assistants and recruiting potential wrestlers from within his school district.
“When I took the job, I think I took it to try to get it back up on its feet again,” he said. “We had fairly poor participation at the time, and I think some people in the building thought I could help with that.”
He certainly seems to have done that. The Rams had just six returning wrestlers on their roster in his first season but that number nearly quadrupled to 23 this season.
“I’ve had a lot of good guys that have helped build this program,” Smith said. “The staff and the kids have built this to the point where I know the program is better than when I got it. It’s a team that can push for a district title as a team.”
Richland had winning seasons in each of his four years as coach and went 11-6 this year, when it was the fifth seed in the District 6 Class AA Dual-Meet Tournament, but Smith is hoping that the next coach can lead the Rams to greater glory.
“It’s time to get a guy in here that knows more wrestling,” he said. “There were times when I thought ‘Am I holding them back?’ I never wanted to do that.”
Assistant coaches Mike Naglic, who handled much of the dual-meet strategy for the Rams this season, and Thad Benton, a two-time NCAA Division II champion at Pitt-Johnstown, would seem to be strong possibilities to move up in the coaching ranks at Richland, even though the openings are not yet official.
Smith, who was quick to credit assistants both past and present and the wrestlers themselves for much of his success, said he expects to have some input on the new hire.
“I’m an administrator here, too, so I would hope so,” he said.
“When you’re working with school boards, they have the final say, but typically in these situations, they listen to what the previous coach said.”
As much as Smith’s tenure will be known for rebuilding the Rams, it will be remembered for Rizzo’s success.
Rizzo went 159-11 in his four years under Smith, winning four state medals, including three championships.
“That boy did a lot of that on his own,” Smith said. “I can’t take credit for what he’s done. I opened up the door a lot of times for him to get in here and train. I credit a lot of the coaches in the area for helping me to get him where he needed to be.
“That’s one thing about the coaches around here, they want to see everyone succeed.”