Columbia wins first tournament title, but loses coach to another school


The party along Broadway was grand; the morning after, not so much. Less than 18 hours after steering Columbia’s Lions to their first-ever postseason tournament championship, it was announced that men’s basketball coach Kyle Smith was leaving to take the same position at the University of San Francisco.

Tuesday night, confetti.

Wednesday afternoon, contrition.

“This is a tough one,” the 46-year-old Smith told the Associated Press. “I was out (on the west coast for) 17 years. Friends and family were a big factor. I’m glad I helped build this program and know there is a bright future here.”

The Lions (25-10) and their fans had been in relative bliss just a few hours earlier, as host Columbia knocked off UC Irvine at Levien Gymnasium, 73-67, in the championship of the Tournament. It was the first tourney title in the history of the program, and the first championship won by an Ivy League program since Princeton took the National Invitation Tournament title in 1975.

Columbia also became the first New York City school to win a postseason crown since St. John’s (NIT) in 2003, the crowning achievement of Smith’s six years at the helm, a triumph that capped off his second campaign of 20-plus wins in three seasons:

Columbia set new single-season school records in victories (25), non-conference wins (15) and home victories (18). Smith had posted 59 wins over the last three years, the most of any three-season stretch in Lions history since the program won 63 from 1967-’70.

Over the 20 seasons prior to Smith’s debut campaign in 2010-’11, Columbia had averaged just 9.6 victories per year. His five-year win total of 101 was the most since the Lions claimed 106 victories from 1950-55. The Light Blue had posted just three winning seasons in the 30 years before Smith left his post as associate head coach at Saint Mary’s in 2010 to take the reins in the Big Apple.

“I feel like he changed around the culture here,” Columbia guard Maodo Lo, a native of Berlin, Germany, told the AP. The Lions’ senior engine was the Ivy League’s leader in 3-pointers (96), field goals (212) and steals (78). “(He) turned it into a winning program.”

Tuesday night, Smith changed a culture.

By Wednesday afternoon, he’d changed addresses.


“I showed them a picture of our trophy case,” Smith told The Columbia Spectator Tuesday night. “I said, ‘We have nothing in there, it’s time to put one in … I’m tired of seeing that when I walk by my office.’”

The case has a tenant, at last. The day after the biggest celebration at Levien in a long while, it’s the office that feels curiously empty.

Above: The Columbia coaching staff celebrates winning Tuesday night. (Courtesy Columbia basketball via Twitter)

Sean Keeler

Follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @SeanKeeler