After 32 seasons at the helm of his alma mater’s baseball program, John Smith retired with 882 victories as the winningest head coach in school history. In his current role, Smith works with interim athletics director Bill Macriss on special projects in relation to fundraising and development inside the athletic department.
On Oct. 2, 2009, Smith announced that the 2010 season would be his final year as the club’s skipper.
The announcement came following a 2009 season that saw center fielder Tim Wheeler become the first player in program history to be taken in the first round of the Major League Baseball Draft when the Colorado Rockies made him the 32nd overall selection.
In 2008, the Hornets made the Western Athletic Conference postseason tournament for the third straight season, and produced five all-conference performers. Additionally, seniors Ryan Blair (21st round) and David Flores (18th round), along with junior Gabe Jacobo (10th round), were selected in the MLB Draft.
Under Smith, Sacramento State battled for a spot in the NCAA Tournament down to the final weeks of the 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1998 seasons.
The Hornets, who narrowly missed out to Cal State Northridge on the final weekend of the 1991 season, were also a factor in the Western Athletic Conference race in the latter stages of the 1992 and ’93 seasons. In 1998, Sacramento State again nearly found a spot in the postseason, losing to Long Beach State in the championship game of the Big West Tournament.
Since taking over the program in November of 1978, Smith produced 16 winning seasons, including 11 years with at least 30 wins and four years with at least 40 wins. In his 32 seasons as a head coach, he has posted 882 victories. The 882 wins are the most wins by any head coach for any sport in Sacramento State athletics history.
A strong recruiter, baseball tactician and program administrator, Smith took the 1988 Hornets to the finals of the NCAA Division II World Series. He has led the Hornets to NCAA postseason appearances four times during his tenure, winning two regional crowns and two trips to the NCAA Div. II Championships.
Smith was named the American Baseball Coaches Association/NCAA Western Regional Coach of the Year twice, in 1986 and in 1988.
Under Smith the Hornets had several successful seasons in the MLB Amateur draft, including the three player class in 2008. In 2007, pitcher Mitch Lively was selected in the 16th round of the draft by the Colorado Rockies, following an eight save campaign.
Prior to that, Hornet pitchers Ethan Katz and Warren Rosebrock were selected in the 2005 draft. Katz, who was the Hornets’ No. 1 starter in 2004 and 2005, was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 26th round. Rosebrock, who played for the Hornets from 2002-05, was selected by the Texas Rangers in the 41st round.
Three Hornets from the 2004 season were also selected; Jack Arroyo was drafted in the 18th round by the Seattle Mariners, Craig Johnson was selected in the 19th round by the San Diego Padres and John Acha was selected in the 25th round by the San Francisco Giants.
The 2003 season proved to be the program’s best representation in the draft as three Hornets were selected in the top 15 rounds. Chris Kinsey joined Erik Bennett as the highest draft selection in program history (prior to Wheeler) after being taken in the fourth round by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Jesse Schmidt was selected in the 10th round by the San Francisco Giants and Mikela Olsen went in the 15th round to the Florida Marlins. The trio became the highest selections in one year and were the most players picked in one season since 1993. Prior to the draft, Steve Correa signed a free-agent contract with the New York Mets.
Several other Smith-coached players have gone on to play professional baseball. Bret LeVier signed as a rookie free agent with Boston Red Sox in June 2004 and Casey Fuller signed with the Colorado Rockies in June of 2003. Jeff Groeger inked with the Cincinnati Reds in August of 2002. Chad Elliott and Casey Martinez were drafted in the 2000 Amateur Draft, and Jesse Krebs and Jimmy McFarland each signed free agent contracts that same year.
Smith took over the Sacramento State program in the winter of 1978. After the Hornets produced a 19-31 record in his first season, the team posted winning records in 14-consecutive seasons and won a league title. During that stretch, Sacramento State averaged 34.5 victories per year, including a program-best 43 wins during the 1988 season.
In Smith’s early years, the Hornets finished second once and third twice in the Far West Conference. Sacramento State was also second in the Northern California Athletic Conference and won the NCAC title in 1985.
Sacramento State won the NCAA Division II Regionals in 1986 and 1988, advancing to the College World Series both years. In 1986, the Hornets finished third at the College World Series, and in 1988, Sacramento State lost to Florida Southern, 5-4, in 12 innings, in the final game to finish as the national runner-up.
Besides his NCAA West Regional Coach of the Year honors, Smith has been named Sacramento State Coach of the Year twice, in 1981 and 1986, and Sacramento Hall of Fame Coach of the Year four times. Among his other honors, Smith was selected to coach a team of collegiate all-stars that toured Czechoslovakia on a 10-week goodwill tour in the summer of 1992.
A native of Redding, Calif., Smith spent three years in the U.S. Army Special Forces as a Green Beret after junior college (College of the Siskiyous).
He spent the 1970 season as an assistant at College of the Siskiyous in Weed, Calif., followed by two years playing for Cal Boyes at Sacramento State in 1971 and 1972. He served as a graduate assistant for Boyes’ 1973 team and graduated from Sacramento State that spring.
He spent the next five years as head baseball coach at Encina High School, where he led EHS to a Central Valley Conference title.
Smith also took the role of Associate Athletics Director at Sacramento State from February of 1999 until June of 2002. In his position, he was responsible for overseeing the football program while assisting with scheduling and the day-to-day operations of the athletics department.
John and his wife, Terry, who is the principal at O.W. Erlewine Elementary School, have two children, Heather and Bobby. Heather graduated in the spring of 2007 from Sacramento State, while Bobby graduated from the College of the Siskiyous Fire Academy and works as a firefighter.