In the hours shortly following Nebraska's loss to Baylor in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, the Huskers were informed of a sudden change in their travel itinerary from San Antonio now that their season was over. Rather than leave Saturday morning as originally, NU was told it had to leave that night.
As he was packing up his luggage to get ready for the bus ride to the airport, assistant coach Craig Smith got a call from sophomore wing Terran Petteway, who asked Smith if he would meet him and his family down in the hotel lobby to say goodbye, as Petteway was going back to his hometown of Galveston, Texas, with his parents for spring break.
"So I go down to the lobby and I'm talking with his family and kind of chopping it up a little bit, and we've got to hit the bus and he leans over and says, 'Coach, I love you,'" Smith said. "It was just a really powerful time. Nothing was official yet at the University of South Dakota, but in my mind I had a good idea of what might happen. So it was kind of a goodbye."
A little more than 48 hours later it would be announced that Smith, who had been Tim Miles's right-hand man for 16 of the past 19 seasons, would become the next head coach at South Dakota. On Monday, the Stephen, Minn., native was officially introduced by USD officials during a formal press conference in Vermillion, S.D.
While much of the press conference discussed Smith's vision for the Coyotes, he also gave due credit and thanks to Miles for helping him finally achieve his dream of becoming a Division I head coach.
"First and foremost, the guy that's had the most impact on my life professionally is certainly Coach Tim Miles," Smith said. "I was very fortunate to meet him at a young age. I was 22 years old, had full, wavy hair just blowing in the wind at that time … and he just really took me under his wing… The last two years at Nebraska have been invaluable, coaching in the best conference in the country in the Big Ten and being a part of that turnaround which was probably quicker than we expected.
"Coach taught me everything I know about the profession. He taught me how to be a professional, and he was just a tremendous mentor in terms of not being a guy that micromanaged and really taught me a lot of things and just kind of let me go. You have people around you in life who just believe in you unquestionably, and I just can't say enough things about Coach Miles and the experiences we had together."
As excited as he was for the next step in his coaching career, Smith couldn't help but think about the group he was leavng behind at Nebraska. A team that reached its first NCAA Tournament in 16 years that returns seven of its top eight players next season, Smith said the sky was the limit for the Huskers next year and beyond.
"That's a tough process, because you kind of feel like a coward a little bit," Smith said. "You kind of feel like you're not really a leader because you're bailing out on them… Saying goodbye to all these guys last night, it's an emotional deal and a powerful deal… I've been so fortunate to coach so many great players throughout the years. You know, it's really tough when you leave a program. The University of Nebraska, certainly first and foremost because of Coach (Miles), but we had such a great group of guys. Six of our top nine guys were freshmen and sophomores, and that team's got a chance to be a top-25 team for most of the year next year."
Smith, who's been called a near clone of Miles in terms of both personality and coaching style, jokingly thanked his old boss for being gracious enough to allow him to coach the final 11 minutes of NU's loss to Baylor - after Miles was ejected for picking up his second technical foul.
"Coach is always a master of all the angles," Smith said. "When we were just getting our butts kicked by 16, I think he just said 'Screw it, I'm going to help the University of South Dakota. Craig's been an assistant for 11 years. We're just going to hand it over and see what he can do.' So thank you, Coach Miles.
"Coach Miles is like a big brother to me. He's family. My kids are best friends with their kids, and we're always together. So it was a great situation. So if I didn't have every ounce of fiber in my bone believing in the University of South Dakota and everything that it entails, I wouldn't be here. I firmly believe we are going to make a major, major splash in Division I basketball and certainly the Summit League in the very, very near future."