St. John’s basketball coach Jim Smith retires after 51 seasons

Categories: Around the Diocese

St.  John’s University basketball coach Jim Smith, Minnesota’s all-time leader in college basketball wins, announced his retirement March 17.

“This has been a very difficult decision and one that has required a great deal of thought and lost sleep,” Smith said in a press release from St. John’s University. “I will miss my associations with our basketball players more than anything else, but will always relish the times that we spent together. Our alumni are very special people and I look forward to continued relationships with them.


Jim Smith

“I look forward to spending more time with my wife, Adrienne, our seven children, 12 grandchildren and four great grandchildren. It has been a great ride and never thought I would be at St. John’s for 51 years. Thank you to all who have made our family part of your family.”

SJU ended its 2014-15 season with a 16-10 overall record (14-6 MIAC), a third-place finish in the conference standings, and advanced to the MIAC Playoff quarterfinals. Smith ended his career second in NCAA Division III history with 786 wins (786-556 career record) and tied for 14th in NCAA basketball history.

Smith will remain on staff until his current contract expires June 30. The search process for his replacement will begin immediately.

“Jim Smith is part of that great tradition of Johnnie athletics in which student athletes have an exceptional athletic experience but get so much more,” SJU president Michael Hemesath said. “Jim is a coach with an exceptional number of wins but his legacy extends far beyond the basketball court. In the finest liberal arts tradition, Jim is an educator whose legacy is seen in the hundreds of young men he has influenced throughout his career.”

Smith led his teams to seven MIAC titles, five MIAC playoff titles, nine trips to the NAIA tournament and eight trips to the NCAA Division III playoffs, most recently in 2007. Smith won MIAC titles in each of the past five decades and totaled a 599-341 (.637) record in conference play.

“Our athletic department wants to thank Jim Smith for his tremendous contributions to St. John’s and we share our best wishes with Jim and Adrienne on their retirement,” SJU athletic director Tom Stock said. “Jim absolutely loved coaching, mentoring, educating and competing with his student athletes during the past 51 basketball seasons here at SJU.

“And, due to Jim’s great passion for coaching and the sport of basketball, few have left the coaching profession more respected. Everyone here who was touched by Jim Smith is honored he chose to make his career at St. John’s.”

A three-time NAIA District Coach-of-the-Year, Smith is a past president of the NAIA’s National Basketball Coaches’ Association (1981-83). In 1992-93 and 2000-01, Smith was named the NCAA Division III West Region Coach of the Year. Smith also was named MIAC Coach of the Year in 2000-01, which was the sixth time in his career he received that prestigious honor.

Smith was the 27th coach in NCAA men’s basketball history to win 700 career games. On Feb. 13, 2002, Smith also reached the milestone of coaching his 1,000th career game.

He became the winningest coach in Minnesota collegiate basketball history when SJU defeated Gustavus Adolphus in the second round of the NCAA Division III basketball championship tournament March 3, 2001, passing legendary Hamline head coach Joe Hutton.

A 1956 graduate of Marquette University with a bachelor’s degree in English and history, Smith was a four-year letter winner on the Warriors’ basketball team (Marquette’s teams are now known as the Golden Eagles). He also earned his M.Ed. in counseling and guidance from Marquette, while serving as an assistant coach from 1957-61. Smith coached high school basketball at Milwaukee South and Brookfield East in Wis., over a three-period before coming to Collegeville.

In addition to his duties as basketball coach, Smith was an associate professor of physical education and coached golf (1981-93), cross country (1965-73) and track (1966-73) at SJU. He served as the Johnnies’ athletic director for 15 years from 1972-76 and 1994-2003.

Smith grew up in Elgin, Ill., and attended St. Edward High School, where he was an all-conference performer in basketball, football and track. In 1993, Smith was inducted into the St. Edward’s Sports Hall of Fame and the Elgin Sports Hall of Fame. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Elgin Sports Hall of Fame Foundation this past November.