NCAA Wrestling: From Oklahoma’s Young Head Coach at 26 to 5x Champion: John Smith’s Enduring Coaching Legacy

Published 04/12/2024, 9:30 AM EDT

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After an enduring tenure of 33 years, Oklahoma State’s winningest coach of all time announced his retirement on April 11, 2024. This marked the end of an era in NCAA wrestling 58 years old, Smith, boasting a remarkable 490-73-6 career record and the esteemed title of Five-Time NCAA Champion Coach, reflected, “It has been an honor to coach for more than 32 years at the same institution.”

Yet before his contributions to the cowboy wrestling legacy, did you know that John Smith made waves as a wrestler too? Let’s explore the journey of how he went from being Oklahoma’s young head coach at 26 to a five-time NCAA champion and had remarkable success as a wrestler himself.

How Coach John Smith’s journey in NCAA wrestling began


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According to the Oklahoma State University website, John Smith’s journey in NCAA wrestling began with a stellar high school record of 105-5. Reflecting on his beginnings, Smith expressed, “My journey started at age 17 here at Oklahoma State, and it has allowed me to accomplish everything I ever wanted.” Dominating collegiate wrestling at Oklahoma State University, his college career boasted an impressive record of 154-7-2.

At the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, he was a three-time national finalist, a two-time national champion and ended his collegiate career with an extraordinary 90 consecutive victories. Transitioning from competitor to coach, Smith’s appointment as head coach in 1992 marked the beginning of his legacy coaching career.


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Leading the Cowboys to five NCAA team titles in 1994, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006. Coach John Smith’s guidance saw numerous individual championships and a blazing 21 top-five finishes at the NCAA Championships. His impact went beyond collegiate wrestling, as he even coached the USA Olympic Wrestling Team, leading to their notable second-place finish at the 2000 Olympics. But did you know Coach John Smith is an Olympian himself?

His career as an Olympic champion


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As a teen, John Smith competed both nationally and internationally for the USA, showcasing exceptional talent and a mastery of wrestling techniques. His renowned low single-leg takedown technique propelled him to become one of the greatest freestyle wrestlers of all time. Smith’s dominance was evident on the global stage, where he achieved unprecedented success as a six-time world-level champion.

He secured four gold medals at the World Wrestling Championships in 1987 (Clermont-Ferrand), 1989 (Martigny), 1990 (Tokyo), and 1991 (Varna). Furthermore, Smith reached the pinnacle of success, winning gold medals in 1988 (Seoul) and 1992 (Barcelona). Today, his coaching legacy shines brightly, evident in the countless former wrestlers now leading programs across the nation. As we reflect on his journey, Coach John Smith’s impact is undeniable, leaving an enduring legacy for generations to come.


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Read more: “Tell the Old Man”: John Cena Seemingly Sent Vince McMahon a Message Through Stephanie McMahon at WrestleMania XL


Written by:

Christaline Meyers


One take at a time

Christaline Meyers is a senior Olympics writer at EssentiallySports who specializes in gymnastics and alpine skiing. Christaline is one of the acclaimed authorities in the coverage of 6x All-Around champion, Simone Biles. She has written extensively, covering every detail of Biles’s life stories as well as providing her perspective on Simone Biles’ Yurchenko Double Pike controversy.
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Edited by:

Himanshu Sridhar