Smart Named Tigers' Golf Coach
July 3, 2014
Blake Smart, who helped the University of Oklahoma’s golf program return to being a national contender and previously had unmatched success as head coach at Kennesaw State, has been named the men’s golf coach at the University of Memphis.
Tom Bowen, Memphis’ Director of Athletics, made the announcement on Thursday.
The University of Memphis conducted a national search which drew over 70 applicants including a dozen sitting coaches.
“Blake is one of the finest young golf coaches that I have had the pleasure to meet,” Bowen said. “I am pleased that he has accepted our offer to become the head golf coach at the University of Memphis.
“Blake’s background along with his amazing ability to recruit and build NCAA championship-caliber golf programs makes him a fantastic addition to our coaching staff. He is the perfect hire to continue the great work of Grant Robbins.”
Smart takes over a program which has advanced to the NCAA Regionals each of the past four seasons. In addition, Memphis captured the Conference USA championship in 2012 on its way to an NCAA Championships appearance. He accepted the position vacated earlier this summer by Robbins who was named the head coach at Kansas State University. In addition to coaching 11 seasons at Memphis, Robbins was a four-year letter winner at Memphis who was inducted into the Tiger Hall of Fame in 2010.
“This is an excellent opportunity for a coach such as myself who has been a head coach in the past as well as an assistant at a program such as Oklahoma the last five years,” Smart said. “The University of Memphis is on the brink of being a nationally-competitive program. Coach Robbins laid some fantastic groundwork. His work, especially with him being a Memphis alum, will always be appreciated.
“With this transition, the aim is always going to be to go win championships – winning league championships along with Regionals and advancing on to Nationals. Once you’re at Nationals, particularly in match play, everyone has a chance. The ultimate goal will be to make the Final Eight and then go stir things up and beat people.”
Smart joined the University of Oklahoma staff along with Sooners’ head coach Ryan Hybl prior to the 2009-10 season and academic year. In five seasons, Oklahoma improved its national position from No. 105 to No. 15 in the Golfstat rankings. The Sooners reached the NCAA National Championships for the fourth straight year in 2014.
Prior to his tenure at Oklahoma, Smart stabilized a Kennesaw State program which was transitioning from Division II to Division I. He also played a major role in the construction of an on-campus indoor practice facility for both the men’s and women’s golf programs at Kennesaw State.
“Going back to being the head coach at Kennesaw State – which is a large, public school – and knowing those inner workings will certainly benefit me,” Smart said. “I was able to gain the kind of experience you can only get when you are doing something from scratch – building a program, scheduling and finding players to come to a school which at the time was a relatively unknown. And then moving on to an Oklahoma program, which is one of the premiere athletic departments in the country, where you have the resources to recruit and compete at a high level.
“Together, those experiences have led me to see a wide range of possibilities in terms of recruiting exceptional student-athletes – both recruits that are highly ranked nationally as well as golfers you bring in and develop into great players while they are in college. The experience and accomplishments while working at schools which had different resources has led me to believe I am ready to be a very successful head coach in Division I.”
In 2014, Oklahoma finished 16th in the stroke play portion of the NCAA National Championships. The Sooners won three, regular-season tournaments and achieved the highest national ranking (15th) since the 2001-02 season. OU won the Golfweek Conference Challenge (Burlington, Iowa), the UTSA/Oak Hills Invitational (San Antonio, Texas) and the Wyoming Cowboy Classic (Scottsdale, Ariz.) and posted a total of eight, top-three finishes during the year.
Oklahoma finished 11th at the NCAA National Championships in both 2012 and 2013.
The 2011-2012 team finished just two shots out of qualifying for Final Eight match-play, the program’s best finish since 1993. The program produced its second All-American under Coaches Hybl and Smart. OU also set a school record for number of birdies with 585 during the year.
The 2012-2013 team was just three strokes out of Final Eight qualifying at the NCAA National Tournament after the school’s best Big 12 Tournament finish (third place) since 2006.
In 2010-11, Smart helped the Sooners to their first NCAA Championships appearance since 2006 and to a No. 28 final Golfweek/Sagarin national ranking. Led by two, first-team all-region selections, the Sooners closed the year with 10, top-10 finishes, including two runner-up showings and a record-setting victory at the Desert Shootout in Goodyear, Ariz., in which they shot 48 under par to win by 22 strokes.
The Desert Shootout featured three of the lowest seven team rounds in program history. Also included were the two best individual 54-hole scores in OU history.
During his tenure at the University of Oklahoma, Smart worked in tandem with the program’s academic advisor and the efforts earned recognition for the best team grade point average in program history as well as five Academic All-American awards in four years.
“We will miss Blake in so many ways as he moves on to Memphis, but this is a great move for him and his wife,” Hybl said. “He will do great things there, and we wish him success and thank him for his time at OU.”
In just three years at Kennesaw State, Smart helped turned the Owls into one of the top golf programs in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Smart guided KSU to eight, top-10 finishes during the 2008-09 season, including a second-place finish at the Samford Intercollegiate and a third-place showing at the Mizuno Savannah Intercollegiate. Smart coached five different players to Atlantic Sun honors in three seasons. One of his top recruits, Matt Nagy, qualified for the 2009 U.S. Open and became the first-ever Kennesaw State golfer to participate in a major championship.
After Smart’s departure from Kennesaw State, the Owls advanced to the 2011 NCAA National Championships. While at Kennesaw State, Smart recruited four of the five players who competed and advanced to the 2011 NCAA Championships.
Smart has also been a tireless marketer of the programs he has worked. At Oklahoma he co-created and co-directed the Ryan Hybl Sooner Golf Camp. He played a significant role in securing ELITE status with Nike Golf and the team branding which goes along with the contract. At Kennesaw State, he established the first booster club for the men’s golf program and secured the largest alumni gift in athletic department history.
Prior to being named head coach at Kennesaw State, Smart was an assistant coach for two seasons with both the men’s and women’s programs at his alma mater, Berry College, an NAIA program in Rome, Ga. While on staff at Berry, Smart helped guide the squads to a pair of team titles and coached three individuals to tournament championships.
Competing at Berry from 1999-2004, Smart was an NAIA All-American in 2002, as well as a two-time all-conference selection. In addition, he was selected to nine all-tournament teams during his career. He was a member of two NAIA Championship runner-up teams (2000, 2002). Additionally, Smart was a two-time Academic All-American as well as three-time academic all-conference honoree.
The native of Cornelia, Ga., has dual degrees in business management and economics (2004), and also received his Masters of Business Administration from Berry in Spring, 2006. He is married to the former Caroline Norris of Greenville, S.C.