West Ouachita’s mascot plastered on the gym wall might as well have been a sign from the good Lord, himself, for Keith Smith.
Smith, who has spent the last two decades piling wins as a girls basketball coach in Texas, walked into West Ouachita’s gym and saw the Chief on the wall. The rest was gravy.
“It brought back a ton of memories and got me thinking,” said Smith, who went to Calhoun High before attending ULM.
Before the position opened up, West Ouachita’s newest girls basketball coach wasn’t exactly looking for a change in scenery. Coming off of a successful season 2018-19 season at Robinson High School (Texas), where his team was upset in the second round, Smith’s club was ranked 13th in the state. He moved to an assistant role at Pine Tree High School in Longview this past season. But there’s something about getting the call from home, especially when that call comes from the principal of your former school.
“Mrs. (Rebekah) Oaks reached out to me a few weeks ago and wanted to gauge my interest in it,” Smith said. “I thought about it more and more, and it felt good. It felt like a good decision. I think it’s kind of neat to make it full circle, to go back to where I started.”
Smith brings a winning pedigree to West Ouachita. With a 541-226 career record, Smith’s girls teams in Texas made the playoffs 24 out of the last 28 years. West Ouachita athletic director Mitch Thomas knew of Smith from his time spent at Neville.
“I knew him when he was coaching at Neville in the ‘90s because I was coaching basketball at St. Frederick then,” Thomas said. “I was impressed with him as a coach then, and I really haven’t heard from him after he left to go to Texas. But when he put his name in with this job, we were excited. He knows the area, and he understands the situation we’re in. It’s a great fit.”
Thomas said there was some anxiety that came with filling the position. Because of COVID-19, there were some concerns about whether or not experienced coaches would feel comfortable leaving jobs they felt secure with. And experience was an important quality West Ouachita was looking for.
“It’s a unique situation that none of us have been through before, so somebody with experience is what we really wanted,” Thomas said. “We didn’t want to put somebody in there who hadn’t had success running a program.”
Smith said he started his coaching career on the boys side but wasn’t against coaching girls because of his admiration for Louisiana Tech women’s basketball. Growing up so close to the program, he became a big fan. So naturally, Smith embraced a coaching opportunity in Texas to coach girls basketball. And he found immediate success. At Malakoff, Smith coached the ’98 club to a state championship berth before bouncing around the state and spending approximately 14 years in Austin where he coached at Westlake.
Through Smith’s coaching career, he’s won seven district titles.
“I’m really humbled and grateful,” Smith said. “I’m grateful to Mrs. Oaks, Mitch Thomas and (head football coach) Matt Middleton. I had a great conversation with all three of them on my second visit to campus.”
Smith said he knows he inherits a young West Ouachita squad that in its first season in Class 5A made the playoffs.
“It sounds like they work hard, and it sounds like Coach (Jimbo) Murphy did a great job coaching them,” Smith said.
Anxious to get to work, Smith said he would try to meet with his new team as soon as possible, and if he had to meet with 10 at a time next week after the LHSAA postponed summer workouts for all sports until June 8, then that would be the plan moving forward.