Washington State men's basketball coach Kyle Smith is headed to Stanford

Mar. 26—Two days after the Cougars' improbable season ended in the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament, Washington State men's basketball coach Kyle Smith traded in his crimson attire for Cardinal red.

After five seasons in Pullman, Smith will take over as the new head coach at Stanford.

"It is with a humble heart that I want people to know that I have decided to take on a new challenge," Smith said in a statement. "It has been an honor to lead the Cougar basketball program back to the NCAA tournament."

Five years ago, Smith took over a Wazzu program that had become a doormat in the Pac-12 Conference and hadn't had a winning season in eight years.

He immediately lifted the Cougars back up to a .500 record in his first season in 2019-20, took two trips to the National Invitation Tournament and led WSU to its first NCAA tournament in 16 years this season.

Despite constant roster turnover, Smith brought the Cougs to the semifinals of the NIT in 2022 and the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament this spring.

A ragtag team that included one returning starter and a collection of under-recruited transfers who started out in junior college or the NCAA Division II ranks made up a WSU team that defied expectations after being picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12 in the preseason. Instead, WSU beat top-dog Arizona in both regular-season meetings and finished No. 2 in the league thanks to players like Idaho transfer Isaac Jones and freshman point guard Myles Rice.

The Cougars finished 25-10 overall and 14-6 in Pac-12 play. WSU defeated Drake for its first victory in the NCAA tourney since 2008 before falling to No. 2 seed Iowa State on Saturday.

Smith went 94-71 overall and 49-48 in league during his time with the Cougars.

Born in El Paso, Texas, Smith studied English literature and played hoops at Hamilton College in the NCAA Division III ranks in Clinton, N.Y.

The prolific 3-point shooter led the Continentals to a 26-1 record and a No. 1 ranking in DIII during his player days in the early 1990s.

Smith started his coaching career as an assistant at San Diego in 1992, made a stop at Air Force and spent a decade as an assistant at Saint Mary's in the 2000s. His first head coaching job was Columbia in 2010 and he also coached at San Francisco before joining the Cougs for his first Power Five coaching opportunity.

Smith quickly became known for his "nerdball" style that focused on analytics and defense. He also brought his unique sense of humor to postgame interviews and was always open to answer any question brought his way.

"(WSU) went out on a limb in offering a high major opportunity to a mildly successful mid-major coach, one who had never been associated in any way at this level," Smith said. "They saw something in me that others had not considered, and they provided me with the most important commodity: time."

The Cougars reached their highest heights in the 2023-24 season, but the future for the school is uncertain. Ten teams are leaving the Pac-12 Conference with just WSU and Oregon State remaining.

The Cougars will play basketball in the West Coast Conference — a mid-major conference that is also the home of Gonzaga — for the next two seasons while administrators try to sort out a permanent home.

Stanford is one of the programs leaving the Pac-12. The California-based school will join the Atlantic Coast Conference in the fall.

By joining Stanford, Smith will return to the Bay Area where he coached San Francisco for three seasons. He will also remain at the Power Five level.

"I know some or many may not understand my decision, but I want everyone to know how appreciative me and my family are and will always be," Smith said. "Washington State empowered me to fulfill my dreams, and it is time for someone else to have this opportunity."

Wiebe may be contacted at (208) 848-2260, or on Twitter @StephanSports.