At the outset of his first coaching search three weeks ago, Northwest Missouri State athletic director Mel Tjeerdsma and four committee members compiled a list of criteria they wanted in the next women's basketball coach.
Those included someone who had Division II coaching experience—preferably as a head coach—valued academics, had a track record of success, knowledge of the MIAA, familiarity with Bearcat Nation and a passion for wanting to be at Northwest.
Tjeerdsma discovered all—or at least most—of those desired qualities in Michael Smith, and with little convincing needed, was able to lure him away from Truman State.
Named Northwest Missouri State's new women's coach Friday, Smith was formally introduced at a press conference Monday afternoon inside the J.W. Jones Student Union, with most of next year's Northwest women's team in attendance.
It was the second introductory press conference Northwest has held for a women's basketball coach in the last two years, and Tjeerdsma is confident there won't be another one any time soon.
"He is a perfect fit," said Tjeerdsma. "I really believe that. I think he fits so well with our staff, just his perspective and coming from a small town and being a Missouri native. All those things add to it and it gives us a better chance to have a better relationship with him and keep him around here. I think we'll see Michael Smith around for a while."
Smith, 39, is Northwest's third coaching hire in the last 14 months and the seventh in school history.
He was chosen from a pool of over 30 applicants, concluding a process that began even before one-year Northwest coach Mark Kellogg made it official he was leaving for West Texas A&M.
Once the job was posted, Smith was among the first to toss his hat in the ring.
"I think when it became official I probably set the record for sending the email to coach Tjeerdsma as far as my level of interest," said Smith. "The nice thing about Coach T is he immediately responded to that as far as 'thank you for your interest, we got a process to go through' and that type of thing. I said 'I'm willing to do whatever.' It's always been a dream of mine to get back to the Maryville area and be part of Northwest from my personal experience here. Obviously, it's been great we're here today."
During the interview process, Smith met with Tjeerdsma and assistant athletic director Lori Hopkins in Kansas City.
Hopkins, a former Northwest women's assistant coach, first brought up Smith's name to Tjeerdsma, noting "this was his dream job."
"There was no doubt after that meeting with him this is really where he wanted to be," said Tjeerdsma. "This was a destination for him, a place where he could spend a lot of time and develop his career. That was exciting."
Page 2 of 3 - A self-proclaimed "small-town guy," Smith said he hopes to be at Northwest a lot longer than the five years he stayed at Truman.
His excitement for leading the Northwest women's program came through in a phone conversation with men's coach Ben McCollum earlier this month.
"In the conference tournament, Northwest played the game before us and the following was tremendous," said Smith. "I told Ben, I said 'man, that's what I want.' I know that's what Northwest is about."
Smith initially expressed interest in being Northwest's coach last year when the job came open twice, first because of Gene Steinmeyer's retirement and then because of Randy Gipson's abrupt back-track.
Both times he was passed over by former Northwest AD Wren Baker who went with other current Division II male head coaches.
"At the time, Wren Baker was the athletic director and I visited with Wren a couple times," said Smith. "Coming from down south, he had some people in mind. I did tell him my level of interest was high. At the end of the day, it just didn't work out. I understood that and I think everything happens for a reason. I don't dwell on the past a whole lot. I can tell you I'm really excited about the future."
In landing the Northwest job this go-around, Smith gets to remain in the MIAA, a league he holds in the highest regard. His former school, Truman State, begins play in the Great Lakes Valley Conference next year, and Smith acknowledged a preference to stay within the MIAA circles.
"Many of the coaches I've known for years," said Smith. "I know their styles which I think will benefit me. I understand their systems and how they do things as far as scouting purposes. It's the best Division II women's league in the country, and I want to be part of the best."
Smith is also returning to a school where he began his coaching career as a graduate assistant in 1996 and stayed through 1998.
He worked underneath Wayne Winstead—Northwest's all-time winningest women's coach—and part of his duties included teaching one of Tjeerdsma's racquet ball classes.
"Those were the biggest two years of my coaching career," said Smith. "They helped me as a man and as a coach. I'm really excited about following in coach Winstead's footsteps."
After his two years at Northwest, Smith went on to become an assistant at Angelo State and Division I Arkansas Little-Rock.
He got his first head coaching job at Moberly Area Community College in 2002 and was named the Region XVI Coach of the Year twice in his five-year stint. Smith's most recent five years were spent at Truman State where he compiled a record of 68-68 (.500).
Page 3 of 3 - Starting with an 8-19 season, Truman improved during every year of Smith's tenure. This past season, the Bulldogs finished 20-8 and nearly made the NCAA Tournament.
It was the school's most wins in 13 years.
"Michael has been at four programs," said Tjeerdsma. "The thing that really stood out to me is when Michael Smith left the program, it was in a lot better shape then when he came. I think that's really important. We can expect that growth."
Smith's final Truman team led all three levels of NCAA women's college basketball in three-point percentage. The Bulldogs also finished third in the MIAA in scoring offense and fourth in scoring defense—the most balanced of any team in the league.
Smith plans on employing the same style of play at Northwest, one that differs from how the Bearcats have done things on both ends in the recent past.
A zone team each of the last two years, Northwest will play exclusively man-to-man and its flex offense installed by Kellogg last year will be replaced with a more conventional motion.
"I don't know exactly what we'll be doing, but I'm a halfcourt-man guy for sure," said Smith. "We've taken a lot of pride in that the last few years at Truman. We're going to run a lot of motion style offense. We like to shoot a lot of three's. We're going to have an inside-outside game."
Smith inherits an ascending team that improved by nine wins under Kellogg last year to finish 15-13. The Bearcats' 14th win was an upset of Smith's Bulldogs in the regular season finale.
The Bearcats return all five starters and their top six scorers, all of whom Smith has already coached against.
Northwest has signed three players for next year, two of which Smith recruited, and has room to add at least one more.
"This is a great situation," said Smith. "We got players returning that have played a lot of minutes. They understand the conference. They won 15 games which was a big accomplishment for such a young group. They got a taste of the MIAA Tournament in Kansas City. We want to continue to raise that bar and take it as high as it can go."