St. John’s coach retires after 50 years

Published 9:06 am Thursday, March 19, 2015

COLLEGEVILLE — The longtime men’s basketball coach at St. John’s University in Minnesota has decided to retire after 51 seasons.

Coach Jim Smith, 80, announced his retirement to St. John’s players Tuesday afternoon. He finishes with the most wins of any college basketball coach in Minnesota with a record of 786-556.

The Division III school says Smith is tied for 14th in career wins in NCAA men’s basketball history.

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Smith played at Marquette University in the 1950s, and became the St. John’s coach before the 1964-65 season. Under him, St. John’s made 17 postseason tournament appearances, most recently in 2007.

Retirement has been on Smith’s mind for a while, he said. He wants to spend more time with family and friends.

“You start to value your days when you get to be 80,” Smith said. “Especially the days you get to spend with your family. My family has had to sacrifice a tremendous amount over the years when I had to be with my other family out here.”

Although Smith said health wasn’t a primary factor in his retirement, he’s scheduled to have hip replacement surgery at the end of March. He was also diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2003 and fractured his femur in 2009.

Frank Wachlarowicz, who was an All-American at St. John’s in the late 1970s, called Smith “one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.” St. John’s Athletic Director Tom Stock said Smith has been a “great mentor” to people in the athletic department.

Smith had two stints as St. John’s athletic director, and also at times coached golf, cross country and track.

“Everybody who has come in contact with Jim Smith over the years is a better person for it,” Stock said.

St. John’s has started the search for Smith’s successor, with hopes to find a new coach in a month.