Written by Gabe Burns, Staff Writer
On August 13, Valdosta State Athletic Director Herb Reinhard announced Todd Smoot as the new head coach of the cross country program. Smoot previously coached the Blazers in a part-time role from 2008-2013.
Smoot had an impressive run in his first stint with VSU. His five seasons under the helm resulted in 10 All-GSC runners along with various academic accolades, including 46 of his athletes earning a spot on the conference’s honor roll.
One of Smoot’s fondest memories of coaching at VSU came in the fall of 2012, when both the men’s and women’s entire teams were named as Academic All-Americans. The coach credits this astounding overall success to the culture of the sport and the discipline of its athletes.
“I believe it has a great deal to do with the sport, in and of itself,” Smoot said. “Even in high school, you see that cross country athletes tend to be very good academically. I think it is part of the nature of what it takes to be a good runner and student. They already have these basic principles in their DNA, and they just transfer it from academics to athletics and vice versa. The kids themselves are serious about it.”
Despite all his previous accomplishments in the red and black, Smoot says the part-time position brought with it some limitations, the most relevant of those being recruiting. This time around, he looks forward to spending more time selling runners on the idea of developing their craft at Valdosta State.
“That (recruiting) was an area I was deficient in in previous years,” Smoot said. “I could not spend as much time as other coaches here. I’m now a full-time coach, and I have that opportunity to search high and low for great student athletes that will be able to contribute to this fine institution and team.”
A collegiate runner at North Carolina State University, Smoot has now been running competitively nationwide for over three decades. He has established himself in the Valdosta area through numerous events relative to fitness and physical endurance training.
Renowned for his ability to help his protégés reach their potential, Smoot is highly respected throughout the community. When asked how he developed into such an effective motivator, Smoot recognized those before him, stating that he has always tried to learn from other coaches’ best qualities. The praise was then deferred to the mindsets of his pupils.
Smoot identifies blossoming talent by searching for four specific attributes in individuals, then supporting them to the fullest. If they have those traits, then he defines his role as simply physiological.
“I ask four things from people,” Smoot said. “People that want to work with me need to possess these four traits. That’s drive, dedication, determination and commitment. There are limitations, but if you have those four items in you, I know I can get the most out of you that you’ve got. That is what I look for in people, and thankfully, those with these traits seek me out.”
Having been hired later than the usual hiring period, Smoot is still in the process of learning his athletes. So far, he has very high hopes for what he describes as his “core group”.
While getting his runners ready, he has consistently pointed to one goal: Improve in conference competition.
“The focus for this group is to work to improve upon conference of last year, which was stellar,” Smoot said. “If we do that, all other goals will fall into place. Let’s not worry about September 4th (the first meet). Our goal is conference. We have time to make that happen.”
The September 4 meet is at the University of Tampa for the Early Bird Classic in Tampa, Florida. Not only is it Smoot’s first meet back as coach, but it is also the first of four scheduled meetings with the University of Tampa, which is the school where his daughter is a highly successful, scholarship runner.
Smoot will be cheering hard for her as always. Of course, he does add that he will not be yelling “Go Tampa” quite as often as he did last year.
Reinhard and the athletic department continue to make hires that keep VSU among the conference’s elite both athletically and academically. The present and future of the cross country program is in the hands of Smoot.