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COVID-19: News and campus updates | University policies and resources

Bears Introduce New Head Coach

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March 19, 2020

Steve Smiley will be introduced as the 20th head coach of the UNC men's basketball program Thursday during a virtual press conference at 3 p.m. Friday.

Follow a live Q&A session and post your questions to Coach Smiley on Twitter by mentioning @UNC_Bears!

To tune in, and for more information about Smiley, visit https://uncbears.com/news/2020/3/20/steve-smiley-named-unc-mens-basketball-head-coach.aspx 

Andy Feinstein (00:00):
Good afternoon, welcome to University of Northern Colorado albeit virtually. You'll notice today that we are practicing social distancing. And we are excited to announce our new Head Men's Basketball Coach at UNC today. We want to give this special day the attention it deserves and are embarking on our first digital press conference due to what's happening around the world with the coronavirus.

Andy Feinstein (01:22):
Although we are physically six feet apart, philosophically we closely aligned regarding the vision of the Men's Basketball Program. I want to thank all of you for joining us. It is an exciting day to be a Bear. We are thrilled to introduce coach Steve Smiley as our new head coach. I also want to recognize his wife Nikki and their entire family and we are so fortunate to have them as part of our Bear family.

Andy Feinstein (01:52):
Steve has a proven track record during his time as our associate head coach and he's prepared to lead this program. He is committed and passionate to support student success both on and off the court. And I'm so excited about the bright future of our UNC Men's Basketball Program under his leadership. And I'd like to thank also our athletic director, Darren Dunn for his hard work in this process. And now it's my honor to welcome Darren to formally introduce Coach Smiley. Darren.

Darren Dunn (02:34):
Welcome to my first virtual press conference and thank you for joining us and for practicing good social distancing. Before I get started, I would like to offer our thoughts and prayers to those being affected directly and indirectly by this serious virus.

Darren Dunn (02:53):
I would like to start by thanking coach Linder and his family for his commitment to UNC.

Darren Dunn (02:59):
(Inaudible.)

Darren Dunn (03:17):
... during the search process. I also would like to thank our men's basketball team for their input, trust and patience during this past week. We moved swiftly in this process, but we certainly performed our due diligence to ensure we hired the right person. We spoke to many basketball coaches, athletic administrators, and other great basketball minds from all over the country. And after the interview of Coach Smiley a few days ago, it was clear to me and our search committee, we did not have to look any further to identify our new Head Men's Basketball Coach.

Darren Dunn (04:00):
Coach Smiley will be a great mentor to our student athletes on and off the court. And he will be a tremendous representative of UNC and our Greeley Community. I'm so happy Steve's wife, Nikki and their kids, Madden and Avery were able to join us during our process yesterday. And that they'll continue to be proud UNC Bears.

Darren Dunn (04:25):
On behalf of the UNC Athletic Department and our student athletes, I am so proud to officially introduce Steve Smiley as our next Head Men's Basketball Coach. Thank you. Steve.

Steve Smiley (04:40):
Wow, what a great day and what a special day for me and for my family. And I want to thank everyone for tuning in virtually in light of what's going on in the world as well. Life changes quickly.

Steve Smiley (04:54):
Basically a week ago today we were sitting in Boise, Idaho with our current team and getting ready to play a game. And we'd won seven of our last eight games. Our team was pretty confident that we could really make a run and ultimately today be playing in the first round of March Madness. And things changed. I'll never forget, we were sitting in breakfast after our only team practice in the arena when the news came down to the season was over and that was it. So it was a phenomenal time, a tough time, but ultimately things change.

Steve Smiley (05:30):
So now I'm here, I'm really excited, I'm honored. I've been told from the administration when I had the the interview a couple of days ago and they asked me to just give a little background and introduce myself. They said, "You have three to five minutes." After the 25th minute of me explaining who I was. They said, "Today can you keep it a little bit shorter?" But there are some people that I want to thank.

Steve Smiley (05:54):
So first of all and foremost I want to thank President Feinstein. I want to thank Athletic Director Darren Dunn and the entire search committee. For number one, their timeliness, two their diligence and three for ultimately this opportunity. I do not take this lightly. I'm very excited to be the next head coach. This has been a dream of mine and a goal of mine for many, many years.

Steve Smiley (06:16):
I want to take my family, my wife Nikki. This has been a 16 year journey and we've been to many different places across the country, and to ultimately make it here. Than, my son Matt and my daughter Avery who are sitting in the shadows over there too. Multiple times throughout our career they've had to pick up and move and build new friends and go to new schools. And finally we've made it. So I'm really excited about that. I want to thank the coaches and the administrators that have believed in me at my previous stops. Ultimately and first and foremost, the late Don Meyer who is a UNC alum and to me is the greatest coach in college basketball history. I want to thank him. I played for him and I coached with him and I think he's the best.

Steve Smiley (07:01):
I want to thank [Tavares Felton 00:07:02] for giving me a chance to be on his staff when I was fresh out of college. I want to thank Paul [Sather 00:07:07] who hired me when he got his first head job and he hired me as his head assistant. I was 24 years old and he showed great faith in me at that time. I want to thank Mark Englert who hired me for my first head job at Sheridan College when I was only 27 years old. And for him to have the faith in a young guy to get the job done. I want to thank Randy Ray at Weaver State University for giving me my first Division 1 job and showing faith in me there. And then ultimately and most recently I want to thank Jeff Linder who is not only a coach but he's a close friend of mine for giving me the opportunity to come into UNC and to build this program up from from day one.

Steve Smiley (07:43):
As importantly, I want to thank all the players that I've had the privilege to coach. And I can't name them off individually or I run out of time. But I do want to thank the players from Texas A&M International University, Black Hill State University, Northern State University.

Steve Smiley (07:56):
Probably most importantly Sheridan College because when I was 27 years old and I was a head coach, I wasn't much older than my players. And those guys, they believed in me and they let me coach them and push them and allowed us to all reach great heights.

Steve Smiley (08:10):
I want to thank the players from Weaver State University and the two great years I had there. And then most recently, obviously the past four years here at UNC and for all the things we've done with our players here. Any coach knows are only as good as their players and I've had the privilege to coach a lot of really, really good players. So I'm thankful for that.

Steve Smiley (08:30):
Four years ago I arrived at UNC with Coach Linder and with our staff. And at the time we took a leap of faith and we bet on ourselves. We walked into a program that had some question marks and some issues at that time and we all left great situations to try and rebuild something special in this great state and in this great community. We knew and we could feel that there was a potential in this place. UNC and Greeley, they were ready for a winning program and to turn things around.

Steve Smiley (09:00):
I'll never forget our first all athletes staff meeting with Darren Dunn. And it was all the coaches, it was all the administrators, probably 50-100 members in the Champion's Room. And as Darren was introducing our new staff, Coach Linder and us assistants at the time, he told and warned the entire department thaT this program is going to take a really, really long time to turn around. We were in uncharted territory and there was a lot of things that we didn't even know at the time in terms of the current status. And I remember Darren saying this might take multiple years just to get it back on its feet. And I looked at Jeff at the time, at Coach Linder and he had his little smirk on his face and so did I. And I think the competitor and all of us said, "That's not going to happen". We're going to turn this thing around quickly. And low and behold, two years later we broke the school wins record, won the CIT Championship. And that was only the beginning of what has happened the last few years.

Steve Smiley (09:58):
Making the UNC Campus, the City of Greeley proud has been something that's really important to me. It's been important to our whole staff. And so as I walk into the next step of this as the head coach, this is where we're at now. First of all, I can't wait to get to work with our guys and can continue to build our program up. I cannot wait. I'm a Colorado guy. I'm from Colorado, I think it's really important. It's something that my whole life I've wanted to work in this state. And it's ultimately the reason that four years ago that I jumped on the opportunity to work with Coach Linder here. And now if you dropped the pin between where I'm from, Arvada, Colorado and where my wife is from in Cheyenne, Wyoming, that pin would drop in Greeley. And I truly believe this is home, and it's been home for the last four years, and it's going to be home for a very long time.

Steve Smiley (10:43):
I have a lot of personal pride in this program. I put a lot of sweat equity in this program with our entire staff for the last four years. And to build it to where it is now, we don't want to let that slip or go backwards at all. I know how critical the alumni, the donors, the campus and the Greeley community are to our future success and we need all of you now more than ever.

Steve Smiley (11:04):
To the alumni, whether you graduated 1965 or 2018. And whether you live here or you live somewhere else, anywhere across the country, your involvement in our program is crucial. We need you and I'm excited to personally build the relationships with you. I'm excited to do that.

Steve Smiley (11:22):
To the Round Ball Club and to all of our donors. The members of this club, you're all vital to help us attract a quality student, athletes and their families to UNC. And then when they get here, to give those student athletes a once in a lifetime experience. Thank you for your continuous support. I encourage you to all stay involved and I will be in touch with all of you very, very soon.

Steve Smiley (11:44):
To the campus. I can't wait to dive in and continue to build relationships that have been built over the last four years with the faculty, with the staff across this great campus. There's so many special people at UNC that make this a great place. And I'm committed to helping not only the athletics, and not only the basketball team, but our entire campus continue to move forward, which we will.

Steve Smiley (12:04):
And to the Greeley community. My family and I, we've lived here for the past four years. We love it here. We're ingrained in the fabric of Greeley and we are excited to continue living here for a very long time.

Steve Smiley (12:15):
And then most importantly to the players. I want to thank our team in advance for showing faith in me and for putting the stamp of approval on me to lead this program to even greater heights. We all have a lot of goals in our program and to be honest, we're not to the mountain top yet. There's a lot of work still to be done, a lot of goals still to be met.

Steve Smiley (12:35):
To my guys, my players and the staff that will be working with me every step of the way. I can guarantee you that nobody will work harder to prepare you for the next practice and the next game. But most importantly to be prepared for the game of life. So I thank you all.

Andy Feinstein (12:56):
Great. Thank you coach and congratulations again. I think we're going to turn it over to Ryan Pfeiffer for some questions that we have from the community.

Steve Smiley (13:05):
Very good.

Ryan Pfeiffer (13:06):
This is our social distancing during this time. As we said online, if you want to reach out to us @unc_bears on Twitter. Feel free to ask Coach some questions and we'll also open this up at the time to our media calling in. If you are calling in, please state your name and your question and I'll repeat it to Coach Smiley.

Ryan Pfeiffer (13:42):
All right. Our first question comes from Jeff Johnson through Twitter and he asks, "Coach, how will your style play change compared to the past when you're with Coach Linder? And what are you looking for in players as you recruit them?"

Steve Smiley (13:58):
Great question. Style of play and philosophy. To be honest a lot of how we've looked in the past will look the same. My belief in the way basketball should be played is the same as Coach Linder's. In the sense of the current game and space and pace. Being able to shoot all of the analytical stuff that we've all spent a lot of time on throughout the past several years. We believe we have a system that works.

Steve Smiley (14:22):
Now offensively, a lot of ball screens, a lot of guys that can shoot and space the floor. Defensively, one of the things that we've done great throughout the past several years is we've led the country and not giving up three point attempts. So ultimately when you really boil it down, what we want to do is we want to take a lot of great shots including a lot of threes, a lot of labs and a lot of free throws.

Steve Smiley (14:44):
And on the other side of the ball limit, all those. Don't foul, don't give up easy layups and don't give up threes. And then ultimately that's how you can separate things out.

Steve Smiley (14:55):
In terms of your question with recruiting, same thing, nothing's really changing. Being here from day one with Coach Linder and our staff, the model that we've wanted to use will be the same model. We start off with trying to build a fence around our home state. And we've had some great instate talent that has stayed here throughout the years, including most recently Bodhi Hume, Sam Mastin, Matt Johnson and several others. And that's the goal. And your whole team's not going to be an ins-tate team, but you want to build your base around ins-tate guys that again, take pride in being a part of Northern Colorado. And then you can build it from there.

Ryan Pfeiffer (15:29):
All right. Our next question comes from Mike Snyder. He asks, "How did playing and coaching under the legendary Dawn Meyer really impact you and really your philosophy of coaching."

Steve Smiley (15:40):
It impacted me greatly. Playing for coach Meyer five years. I red shirted for him first and then I played four years, so I spent five years in the lab as a player with Coach Meyer. And he was phenomenal. He was really hard to play for. He was really intense. For those that don't know him, he was one of the best of all time. And the way he played in terms of his system and things like that, his big thing was skill development and he would rather have better players than better place. That was the big thing for him. And his same thing with what we do here in terms of it's going to be built around man defense and not a lot of junk, but man, defense. Being a great rebounding team, being a skilled team and ultimately more than anything else being a tough team.

Steve Smiley (16:26):
So as a player it was a phenomenal, but then being able to coach with him for two years as his assistant, I was able to see a different side of Coach Meyer than I did as a player. And being able to see a different side of, working with him on a professional relationship side too. So it was life changing and to be honest, it built the foundation of what my philosophy has been ever since.

Ryan Pfeiffer (16:50):
All right. This one comes from Eric Sampson. He asks, "What's your scheduling philosophy? Still look to play the regional teams, CU, DU, Wyoming, CSU and so forth?

Steve Smiley (17:01):
Yeah, great question. Scheduling philosophy is really the same. With our Big Sky schedule, you play 20 games in the Big Sky now and ultimately you're allowed a max of 31 games. And it gets a little bit complicated with, can you play 29 games or 31 games total? But the philosophy is the same. We want to play teams that that our guys are excited about playing. If we can play regional teams, in -tate teams, a lot of that will stay the same. And then you've got to build your schedule to fit a lot of different parameters. So the schedule that we've had over the past several years, it will look very similar.

Ryan Pfeiffer (17:37):
All right. This one's for both you, Steve and Darren. It's from Jayden Watson Fisher at the Greeley Tribune. She asks, "If the COVID-19 outbreak lasts several more months, how will this interfere with recruiting?"

Steve Smiley (17:52):
Darren, you want me to start with that?

Darren Dunn (17:53):
Yes.

Steve Smiley (17:54):
Yeah, in regards to recruiting, it really does impact it. Right now at the NCAA, there's a ban on travel through at least April 15th which I'm assuming could go for a much longer than that, but time will tell. So right now recruiting is a lot more over the phone, and evaluating film, and looking at players that way. Recruiting still going extremely fast for all programs. Nothing's changed there. And to be honest, in some ways it's probably picked up in a lot of ways because now there's, like in a lot of different parts of our society, that there's some panic. Kids that we're planning on visiting places in March and April, they can't do that anymore. And so now it's a totally different model for the short term and we've got to adapt and adjust like everyone else.

Darren Dunn (18:48):
Since I don't do any student athlete recruiting, it hasn't impacted me at all. But I know it's been a really hard thing for all of our coaches. And if she referred to the recruitment of Steve, the virus did not impact our decision. I think we've known for a long time. Steve was the right person.

Darren Dunn (19:10):
We still had to go through our, what I call due diligence and just through our process to make sure that we are hiring the very best person for our Men's Basketball Program. But it did not impact my decision making at all in hiring Steve. I'm really glad that he's here and then we didn't have to fly him in or go see him. I think we're just really fortunate we had such a great candidate here and has been a part of our program so we got to know him for the past four years.

Ryan Pfeiffer (19:40):
Perfect. All right this one's come in from a few different people here. "What are a few words or phrases that describe the program that you plan on building here at Northern Colorado?"

Steve Smiley (19:51):
A few words or phrases. I think in terms of recruiting, if there's one word I would probably use for recruiting, the first thing we recruit is character. And I think that's one of the reasons over the past several years here that we've been able to have sustained success. Is because our players truly, and they're 18 to 22 year olds. Like everyone else, they're going to make mistakes, they're not perfect. But we do truly believe in recruiting character. And so I don't think any of that changes.

Steve Smiley (20:20):
In terms of our teams. There's an acronym that I've used and going back to Coach Meyer and I still really believe in it. And it's just the word TEAMS, plural. So it's tough. The first thing is I do believe our team's going to be tough and they've been tough over the last several years.

Steve Smiley (20:34):
The next one is effort and teaching players to have maximum effort, not only on the floor but in life.

Steve Smiley (20:40):
The A is for attitude, being able to have a great attitude because again, there's some things in life that you can't control. And having an attitude, want an attitude of gratitude, but just your attitude overall. With current life situations right now with the COVID virus, a lot of us right now is as we stay at our homes that you've got to decide what your attitude is about it.

Steve Smiley (20:59):
So the A is attitude, the M is motives and that's for a lot of players and really for a lot of coaches too. What are your motives? When you're recruiting players is your motive to just be all about you? Because when the motives are selfish, it's hard to build a team. And ultimately teams, win. Players don't win, teams win. And so being able to have a players with the right motives, coaches with the right motives, and ultimately our overall team with the right motives.

Steve Smiley (21:26):
And then the S is for serve and leadership. And so a lot of people say they want to lead, but I do believe as well that leadership is serving. And so serving my players, serving our coaches, serving our departments, serving our community.

Steve Smiley (21:38):
So ultimately if you had to boil it down, I'd probably throw out the acronym of TEAMS tough, effort, attitude, motives, and servant leadership.

Ryan Pfeiffer (21:47):
This one comes in to asking, "How can alumni and friends and family just get involved and be a part of this program?"

Steve Smiley (21:55):
Great question. Alumni, friends and family, one thing that I can't wait to do is reach out to the alumni. And not just the alumni over the past four years, the ones that people know recently, the Jordan Davis's and Andre Spite's and Tanner Morgan's and Tyler Loose's that huge part of it. But the Devin [Bytzel's 00:22:12] , the Kingman's, the people from the past that built this thing up and even before that, all the way back.

Steve Smiley (22:18):
So I think one, it's on us as a department. It's on me as a coach to also reach out to the alumni as well. Which I can't wait to do. I put out a thing on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for everyone that's reached out to me. It's been overwhelming, but once the dust settles and being able to reach out to the alumni and to the donors. I can't wait to do that. But alumni, family, friends, we need everybody. Right now we've got a chance to really continue to build upon what we already have built over the past several years. But we want to take the next step and I do believe that it's on us, as well as coaches and administrators, and as a department to welcome the alumni in and reach out to the alumni.

Darren Dunn (22:59):
I think, let me help finish answering that question. I think it's going to be super critical for us to continue to build this program. We're going to need our community, our alumni, our former players to get more involved at home games to help our program. Because it will help us in recruiting and I think it also helps our players play better in front of large crowds. We need that home court advantage, which we've not had all the time. So next year is going to be really important. We have a great team coming back and now is the time to get involved. We have a great head coach who wants to be here and we have a great team. So this is the time to get involved.

Andy Feinstein (23:41):
Yeah. As a huge fan of basketball here, I want to see these stands full of our fans. I want to see the Pep Band making noise, distracting our opponents when they're trying to shoot a free throw. And just making this a vibrant, exciting part of a what makes UNC special.

Ryan Pfeiffer (24:02):
Awesome. One second here, we've got a bunch coming in. All right. This one tone coming in from Troy Cloverdale. He is just asking, "What's the status of staffing and your process in looking to build a staff?"

Steve Smiley (24:16):
Great question. I don't think until everything's finalized that I can name names. But what I can say is that some staffing internally will stay on. We've worked on that. And then my goal, which I think was the same goal as Coach Linder's, to build the best app that we can build. And I feel like when we came in with Coach Linder, I felt like we had the best staff in the Big Sky from day one. I really do.

Steve Smiley (24:41):
And watching how you built that and the ins and outs of him building that throughout our entire staff. From day one, myself, Coach DeWeese was a day and one guy. Coach McGee, Taylor Green, Coach Dorian Green when he came on last year. I think that's a really big thing.

Steve Smiley (24:56):
And so as a head coach you're only as good as your assistants and I know that. So to answer Troy's question, the staff is being built rapidly and quickly. We're having a lot of success with the people that we've focused on and pinpointed. And those announcements they will come out soon.

Ryan Pfeiffer (25:15):
All right. This one comes from Peter [Rosee 00:24:53]. He asks, "What does it mean to land your first D1, head coaching job in your home state? And how do you plan on strengthening the relationships within the state with the Colorado High School Coaches?"

Steve Smiley (25:28):
Great question. It's really humbling and in some ways it's overwhelming in the sense of so many really good coaches never get the chance to be a Division 1 head coach. And there's great coaches at every level. And I've actually coached and played at every level before I got to the Division 1 level. And there are some great coaches out there that never get the opportunity to coach at this level. And so again, I'm not taking that lightly.

Steve Smiley (25:56):
To do it in your home state is phenomenal. It gives me chills right now as I talk about it. Because like I said, this is where I grew up. I grew up in Colorado and my wife's from the area and here we are sitting in really a dream situation. I felt like this was a dream situation as I came onto the staff with Coach Linder four years ago because we were back home. And for the first time since I went to college in South Dakota, I had never been home. And I'm back home. And so that's a phenomenal part of it too that you're back home.

Steve Smiley (26:29):
Now to I think develop and build a relationship with the high school coaches in the state. If there's one area that I'm very comfortable and confident in that's something you always have to build. But that's already done. The best high school coaches in the state at all the levels are people that I've been close with for 20-30 years to be honest with you. And a lot of those coaches have reached out over the past several hours and days. And I consider a lot of those, not just coaching friends, but I have a lot of friends that are high school coaches. And not just high school coaches, but club coaches within the state of Colorado. And so I'm really excited to continue to build upon them and leverage those relationships.

Ryan Pfeiffer (27:10):
All right, one final question here-

Steve Smiley (27:12):
Yep.

Ryan Pfeiffer (27:12):
... for you. This one's from Brandon Charles, "What's your favorite flavor of coffee?

Steve Smiley (27:16):
I'm assuming we're referring to the Brandon Charles of BC legend. And so if that's BC we're referring to, that's a one of my favorite guys in the football staff. And BC, wherever you're at, I sure hope you're watching this. But my favorite flavor of coffee is what's ever in the office at the time. And that's why you probably walk in there every day to try to get a cup yourself. But as we all say. Coffee's for closers. BC, and I'm sure you probably want to hear that line. So coffe is for closers-

Andy Feinstein (27:47):
You deserve a cup of coffee.

Steve Smiley (27:48):
I had a couple of coffee shops in the way over. So BC-

Andy Feinstein (27:51):
Well deserved.

Steve Smiley (27:52):
... whatever's in the office that's the flavor of the day.

Ryan Pfeiffer (27:56):
All right, thanks coach. And thank you everyone for tuning in and welcoming Coach Smiley to the UNC Bear family, or continuing to have him with us. And stay safe out there. Thank you for tuning in.

Darren Dunn (28:08):
Go Bears.

Steve Smiley (28:09):
Go Bears.