UC Riverside Head Baseball Coach Jack Smitheran surprised many when he announced his resignation on Sept. 2 after 31 years at the helm of the Highlander baseball program. But for the man who had been at UCR for more than half of the school’s existence, it was simply a matter of being ready to move on to the next challenge.
“There is an old adage in baseball that you are better off taking somebody out too soon than too late,” Smitheran said. “I have been here for 31 wonderful years and I think there just comes a time when you look for other opportunities, or other things in life. I think that time has come for me.”
Director of Athletics Stan Morrison immediately named Smitheran’s longtime assistant coach, Doug Smith, as head coach. Smith caught for Smitheran in 1974 and 1975 before joining the coaching staff at the end of the 1975 season. Assistant coaches Andrew Checketts and Estevan Valencia will also remain with the program.
“I am turning the program over to someone who can take it to greater heights, which I have every confidence that Doug Smith will do,” Smitheran said. “He has been groomed for this job and I think the integrity of the program will be continued. I fully expect to see greater success for the program in the near future.”
Morrison had nothing but praise for Smitheran, who became the first UCR coach to take his team to NCAA Division I post-season play when he guided the Highlanders to the NCAA West Regional in 2003.
“Under Jack Smitheran this program has flourished and become one of the top baseball teams in Southern California,” Morrison said. “The discipline, toughness, dedication and loyalty demonstrated by our student-athletes is rooted in the lessons taught on and off the field by our Hall of Fame coach over the last 31 years. He is a true champion.”
Smitheran quickly shrugged off any suggestions that he stay on for a final “farewell tour” around the conference as many retiring coaches and athletes do these days.
“I’m not big on that kind of stuff,” he said. “In some ways I am pretty low profile. I don’t want to go through a handshake tour for the last season. I did not want to draw this thing out. That wouldn’t be fair to the players or the coaching staff.”
And there is a second, more important reason why a retirement tour would not be appropriate. Quite simply, Smitheran is not retiring.
“I’m not through working. This is certainly not a situation where I want to get into a rocking chair,” he said. “Hopefully there will be other opportunities for me to coach. Where, when and on what level, I have no idea and have not pursued any of that. My hope is that I will be able to coach somewhere in the near future.”
“I have been fully employed since I was 22 years of age, so this is a little bit of uncharted water for me,” he added.
Smitheran said he came to the decision to move on after returning from a six-week stint as an assistant coach with Team USA during its gold medal-winning trip to the World University Baseball Championships in July and August.
“Coming back off of the tour, it was the first time that I had been away from the program for an extended time in 31 years,” he said. “Prior to that, I had never spent more than seven days away from the office, and I only did that twice, so it kind of put things into perspective. I was able to step back a little bit and what I saw was that it was time to try something new and enjoy that adventure as much as I have enjoyed this adventure.
“I have had the opportunity to work for a wonderful school and with wonderful people. I wouldn’t change a thing,” Smitheran said. “I am thankful for the opportunity I had here for 28 years as a Division II coach and for the last three as a Division I coach. How can you say anything but thank you for the opportunity to do something that you like to do?”
Smith had mixed emotions about Smitheran’s retirement and his new position as head coach. The fact that Smith would now get the opportunity to run the program was tempered somewhat by the departure of his friend and mentor.
“It has been an honor to work with Jack over the last 25 years. Not only has this been a tremendous professional experience but also we have developed a great friendship over the years,” Smith said. “I will miss working with Jack. It’s been a great run.”