With the Ole Miss softball team’s 7-0 victory over Central Arkansas Tuesday, Rebels’ head coach Mike Smith earned his 800th career victory.
The Rebel Walk was fortunate to have a short question and answer period with the San Diego native prior to Ole Miss’ next game vs. Louisiana-Monroe on Wednesday. First pitch for that game is at 6:30 p.m., and it is set to be broadcast on the SEC Network.
The Rebel Walk (RW): You reached your 800th career win last night; was that number a goal when you started coaching?
Coach Mike Smith: “I never even thought about a number, I just wanted to coach. I thought I was going to coach baseball and got an opportunity to coach softball, and I wanted to build a good program. Of course I wanted to move up and coach in the best conferences with the best players.”
RW: Prior to coming to Ole Miss, you coached at McNeese State, Biola and at California Baptist where you won the 2009 NAIA national title. How did winning a national championship compare to winning your 800th game?
Coach Mark Smith: “There is a lot of difference between the two, 800 is just a number that can be added to and a national championship is about accomplishing a goal. To reach that goal we had to focus each and every step along the way.”
RW: Have you had to change your coaching style and/or philosophy at each level you have coached?
Coach Mark Smith: “Absolutely. Not even just for each level, I have had to change for each different team. The times have changed, too. There was a time when players took a more of a hands-on, old-school approach, and now it is a little different. I know I have to do what is best to make an impact (on players and teams).”
RW: You come from the west coast and in the south, fastpitch softball has only been a reality for about 20 years. Is the south progressing to the point where it is on par with the west coast?
Coach Mark Smith: “Some states play year round like California, Texas, Arizona and Florida, and they are producing a lot of softball talent. There was a time when all the top players were coming from southern California and after they were done playing, they were going home and coaching the next group of great players.
Now, those players are playing all around the country and they are staying in those regions and coaching in college, high school and in travel ball. Mississippi is gaining ground, but some of those young players are playing fastpitch and slowpitch but some are not even playing slowpitch at all and joining travel teams.”
RW: With a national title and 800 wins already on your resume, what are your future goals?
Coach Mark Smith: “Of course qualifying for a regional this year and seeing where that takes us. Ultimately, it is to bring a national championship to the University of Mississippi. I would not have come here if I didn’t think that was possible and it isn’t going to happen overnight, and we laid a foundation for that last year. This year we are putting up some walls — some cinder block walls — and a wooden fence. We have a blueprint for success.”
(Feature image credit: Joshua McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)