On June 22, 2013, Iowa State announced the hiring of new track and field director Martin Smith. With five national titles, 25 conference titles, two national coach of the year awards and 300 All-Americans spanning during his 35-year career with five different teams in five different conferences, Smith has figured out how to not only build a program, but also how to live and thrive outside his comfort zone.
When did you start talking with Iowa State?
I talked to Jamie [Pollard] probably within a day after he heard from Corey [Ihmels], that he was gonna head out to Boise. Then I had met with Jamie for the first step of the interview process last Wednesday, [June 19].
And you and Mr. Pollard have a history together?
Yes, Jamie was actually in the administration at Wisconsin when I was on the coaching staff for cross country and track and field.
What else about Iowa State drew you here?
I don't know if there was any single factor, other than it just felt right for Renee and I. We had been at Oklahoma for eight years and had been very fortunate to have a good experience there and a strong commitment to the cross country and track and field program. The opportunity to get little bit closer to [wife] Renee's home in Madison, Wis. She has a family farm there and we're having our first grandchild in December, so there were some personal reasons that related to family that were very strong. Obviously, the fact that this program has a really rich tradition going back to Bill [Bergan] and Chris [Murray] with the women and the work each subsequent coach has done. Corey has built a really strong distance/cross country program and that was my event area, so the fact that in the latter part of my career I might be able to focus a little more of my energies into the area where I started out was very appealing. It just felt right.
You've had success coaching long-distance, and in the last five years that has been the ISU women's staple. How do you continue that success?
Well, each coach will do it their own way, but how do you do it? The first thing will be to complete the staff, so we make sure we have the right staff on board, so we can then make sure that we are covering all of the different event areas, with a focus on men's and women's cross country because the season is right around the corner, and then as soon as I get a little bit organized here, our recruiting period begins July 1, so to achieve that level of success, we're going to have to have strong recruiting years and try to bring in that caliber of talent that Corey brought in.
How do you get the team to come full circle so the sprinters, hurdlers, throwers and long distance runners are all competing at a high level?
Obviously, you have to recruit competitive talent at the Big 12 level and beyond and hopefully get the staff that can coach them up and build them to that level, and then it's just a day-to-day process of building a culture and environment where athletes enjoy the expectation and accountability, that we can be successful at the Big 12 level as a track team. You use the distance core as a catalyst to show what can and can't be done. There are pockets on the existing team that are strong, we just need to fill in the gaps and have a little more depth in those areas.
In recent years, the men's team has been overshadowed by the women's success. How do you bring the men up to that same level?
Hard work. There's a fairly consistent pattern here: Those areas of the program that have been exceptionally strong and fairly successful, how do you maintain that? It's simple. Work smart hard. Be relentless and not let that standard drop. And in those areas that have not been as strong, it's the same formula: Intelligent hard work based around a team approach and just being totally committed to not settling for anything less than fixing those holes, and that's a process that doesn't necessarily happen over night. It's the long path, and you have to stay the course and have endurance. In the practical sense, that can't be impacted if you don't have the best teachers that are the right fit for Iowa State. If they [athletes] like living here and they believe in what we're doing, they're going to do a better job in the classroom and in practice. Everything else will take care of itself, quite truthfully.
You've been able to win with every team you've coached, what is your coaching philosophy like?
Well, just never give up. I don't really spend a lot of time in self-reflection of why things work, probably more of why things didn't work. I think if there were some common denominators, they would possibly be that I tend to have great endurance not to give up and I genuinely enjoy what I'm doing. There are long hard hours, that's true for anyone who's successful in their endeavor, but I kind of don't look at it as a job, it's just something I really enjoy doing.
Excluding the SEC, you have coached in almost every conference. What is the biggest thing you have taken away from coaching in all those different locations?
They're all different, yet in the end, they are all the same. Each conference has been neat, they all reflect the geography of where they are located and the institutions. Conferences back then were a little more homogeneous before the movement began, so they had histories and traditions and they used to reflect that. The Big Ten had a certain profile, the Pac-10 had a certain profile and when I was with the ACC it had a certain profile. They're all learning experiences and they build on your learning curve and take away something from each one. At the time, I never thought anything of it. It gives you a chance to have a broader view of things and forces you to adapt and think outside your comfort zone because you have to evolve and change as you enter each new place. I find that very healthy and it keeps you on your toes. It's something I personally enjoy and helps keep me motivated.
Which of the regions did you enjoy living in the most?
You know, I've liked them all. I loved living in Eugene, Ore.; Madison, Wis. was awesome; Charlottesville, Va.; Norman, Okla., like Ames, was a neat college town with a relatively small population base, so I've just been lucky that we've enjoyed everywhere we've lived and hope that it continues. This one is a little more natural fit for us since I spent many years in the Midwest while at Wisconsin and my wife is from Wisconsin.