Smith biding his time as interim wrestling coach


Interim wrestling coach Luke Smith, left, sits next to former coach Manny Rivera during a match last season.

Ron Stapp, Sports editor

To say the past week has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for Luke Smith might be putting mildly.

It all started when Cal State Bakersfield wrestling coach Manny Rivera resigned to take a non-wrestling position in Minnesota on Sept. 22.

Smith, who was entering his third season as an assistant was named to Roadrunners’ interim coach the following day, the start of what has been a wild ride ever since.

“I was surprised initially so it’s been wild, but now that the shock has worn off I’m just trying to hit the ground running,” Smith said. “It’s still a little bit crazy just as far as we don’t know for sure what’s going to happen. But all I can do, I have an opportunity with this position and I’m going to try to do the best job I can while I’m in this position.”

Smith’s first day included more than four hours of phone calls to players, coaches, parents and administrators. That followed immediately by the realization that he had 37 unanswered text messages, along with requests for interviews by several local media outlets. 

“So my initial thought when (Coach Rivera) told me I was bummed out,” Smith said. “I was like, man, I’m losing my best buddy in Bakersfield. But I’m very happy for him and his wife because that puts them in a better situation financially.

“It’s been a great two years working with him and I thought we worked very well together. We bounce ideas off each other, and I don’t think we ever got into an argument during our two years working with him. We’ve always kind of been on the same page. So it was a great relationship.”

Despite Smith’s departure, CSUB wrestling assistant Efren Ceballos said the program is still in good hands.

“He’s a good dude, a good wrestler and I think he’s a great coach,” Ceballos said. “I’m glad he’s here with us. What I like about Luke is that he’s a down-to-earth coach. He’s very level-headed. He’s very responsible. He stays on top of things.”

Smith’s presence also provides the program with stability and continuity, something redshirt-sophomore Albert Urias is thankful for.

We’ve had Smith as an assistant for a couple of years now and that’s who we’re used to, and that’s who we want,” said Urias, a Ridgeview High graduate, who competes at the 174-pound division. “We don’t want to change it, especially since it’s such a weird time to have a change of position. 

“This time last year we were getting ready for a tournament in a couple of weeks. Even though the season is up in the air and we haven’t started practicing, we want to keep the coaches that we have now because that’s who we’re used to, and that’s who we know believes in us. We don’t know what would happen if someone new came in.”

In his two-plus years as an assistant, Smith has helped build a strong relationship with the team, something that figures to be more important than ever with delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The thing that makes me more comfortable with Coach Smith is he genuinely cares for us, and he truly has the best intentions,” Urias said. “Everything is pure about him. There’s no selfish reason why he’s coaching. You know he’s actually trying to make you better and to help you out. He’s here for us as athletes, and not for something personal.”