Luke Smith didn't always know where to turn during the 2021 season.
After being named the interim head coach of the Cal State Bakersfield wrestling program last fall, Smith stepped into a challenging situation made all the more difficult by a global pandemic that only allowed his team to compete in two dual matches all season.
Though Smith says he did have a good support system around him, even experienced peers like Tom Borelli, who coached Smith when he wrestled at Central Michigan, didn't exactly know how to guide him through the numerous setbacks facing both him and the wrestling community at large.
"I called my old college coach for advice," Smith said. "And he's been coaching for 30 years now and he said he couldn't really help me because this was a year unlike any other and he didn't know what the heck was going on either."
But through all of it, Smith persevered and his efforts were rewarded on Wednesday, when CSUB lifted the interim tag and named him the full-time head coach of its wrestling program.
Smith, who was also spent two years as a Roadrunner assistant, says he's still dealing with a steep learning curve as a head coach, and will essentially be entering a second rookie season when the team returns to action in the fall.
"Until I experience a full regular season as a head coach, I'm sure there will be things that are different that I will kind of be figuring out as I go," he said.
But despite numerous obstacles, Smith was able to find some success in year one. After more than a month of inactivity, he and his staff helped lead Dom Ducharme to a 184-pound Pac-12 championship, while also guiding Chance Rich (133) and Angelo Martinoni (141) to spots in the national tournament.
These efforts, plus his work on the recruiting trail, played a big role in the administration's decision to turn over the reigns to him.
"Luke has had three years of quote, unquote leadership opportunities," CSUB Associate Athletic Director Karen Langston said. "He’s been in service of our team and our student-athletes for three years … and we’ve gotten to know him pretty well. It was pretty easy to determine that he would be a great fit to become the next head coach at Bakersfield."
Even if he's shedding certain pressures with the removal of the interim tag, Smith plans to apply a heavy dose of pressure internally now that he's secured the job on a full-time basis.
“There’s a book that I read a few times, it’s called 'From Good to Great' about these guys that are seen as great leaders of companies that continually beat the market," he said. "There’s a guy … his mentality was he was always just trying to prove to himself that he was worthy of the position. And that’s kind of the approach I’m going to take where I just constantly want to keep proving to myself that I’m worthy of having this opportunity.”