“We had two strong candidates right here already on the staff, so there was no need to look outside the program,” explained BCHS athletic director Turner Jackson. “Both (Smith and Adam Rains) would do an excellent job as the head coach and it was a tough decision, but Ben has been here a little longer.”
Smith has been an assistant coach for eight years, while Rains, who like Smith is a former Bear and UTC wrestler, has been back with the program for five years.
“This was tough because me and Adam are such good friends,” Smith remarked. “He was a groomsman at my wedding and a pallbearer at my mother’s funeral. We’re peas in a pod. We’re best friends.”
Smith becomes just the seventh head coach in the 38-year history of the Bear program, taking over from his high school coach and mentor Steve Logsdon.
“You don’t replace a legend,” Smith declared. “He leaves some big shoes to fill but he has helped prepare me for this over the last several years and I feel like I am ready.”
“He told me two years ago ‘I’m ether going to coach two more weeks or two more years, so if you want the job you better prepare,” the new coach added. “He has given me more of the responsibilities the last couple of years to get me ready for this day.”
Born in Johnson City, Smith moved to Cleveland as a toddler and came up through the Bear wrestling program.
After earning a pair of third place medals in the TSSAA state tournament his junior and senior seasons (1998, 1999), Smith went onto wrestle for four years at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.
“I had a great experience as a wrestler here at Bradley and missing out on winning a state title helped drive me through my college years to get back here to be a part of the program again,” Smith related. “I had a decent college career and started for a year and a half at UTC.”
Already working with the Bradley team while doing his student teaching in the fall of 2003, Smith was offered a job two weeks before his graduation and joined the staff officially in January of 2004.
“It was an opportunity I jumped at because this was where I wanted to be and the program I wanted to return to,” he commented. “The chance to work with the best coach in the state, if not the entire south, was a dream come true.”
That dream almost turned into a nightmare when Logsdon, who won 20 state championships (dual and traditional) in 18 years at the Bear helm, stepped away from the Bradley program after the 2004 season.
After a two-year hiatus, Logsdon returned to the Bear mat in 2007 and has led the team to seven of the last eight TSSAA titles handed out.
“The relationship I had built with coach Logsdon as a wrestler was what motivated me to make this my career. I’m glad things worked out that I was able to coach with him the last several years and learn from him how to motivate the kids and get them to work hard,” Smith remarked.
“The philosophy of the Bear program has been the same since the day I first got here in 1996 and will not change,” he added. “We teach character, respect and hard work. We don’t just want to make better wrestlers, we want to make them better men.”
Smith claims he won’t do things exactly like Logsdon had, but he won’t change much. “It’s the old adage, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Steve and I have a few differences in personality traits. I’m sure they’ll be a few things I’ll do different than him. The core values, work ethic and desire to win championships will remain the same.”
“I know I’m going to have to take on a different role as the head coach than I had as an assistant, but I’ve learned from the best and I’m ready to accept the challenge,” he added. “Steve was in a similar situation when took over the program from Turner (Jackson).”
Jackson led the program from 1979 until 1993 before handing the reigns over to Logsdon, who went 382-26 in dual meet competition, plus had 35 wrestlers have win a total of 52 state individual championships during his tenure. The program has produced 143 state medalists and six state tournament outstanding wrestlers.
“Our biggest task now is to keep the staff together,” Smith assessed. “Our program has never been a one-individual show, the coaches have always worked as a team.”
“I have no doubt other schools will be going after Adam(Rains) to be there head coach. I know he is being talked to about coaching on a college staff,” Smith added. “I don’t want to lose him. He is a Bradley guy through and through. I really want him to stay, but if he chooses to go, I’ll understand. I’d much rather coach with him than against him.”
Assistant coaches Brandon Forrester and Jared McDaniels will also be retained on the Bear staff.
“I’ve already been contacted by another former Bradley guy who wants to return and be on the staff but our problem is there is no teaching openings available,” he added.
Smith sees the Bear future as a “win-win” situation. “If we win next year, we’re supposed to because we’re Bradley. If we lose people will say its because we lost our coach and nine seniors. On paper, people are not expecting us to be able to beat Soddy-Daisy and Cleveland next year. We still have a lot of strong wrestlers in our program and we’ve already hit the ground running.”
While the mantle has passed, and excellence expected, Smith takes on the responsibility of maintaining the Bear Pride that was put in him at a young age.