Prairie hires Smith to replace Aldridge as girls coach

Former Heritage boys coach won state title in Alaska

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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Mike Smith understands this is not the typical high school coaching transaction.

As the new coach of the Prairie girls basketball team, Smith will not have a whole lot of time to get a feel for the job. There will not be a breaking-in period.

photoNew Prairie girls basketball coach Mike Smith

There is no rebuilding process for the Prairie Falcons.

“I’m not going to expect anything less from these girls than Al did,” Smith said Monday afternoon.

Smith, a former head coach for the Heritage boys as well as a state champion head coach in Alaska, has been hired to replace Al Aldridge.

“I’m going to be under the microscope. That’s part of the job,” Smith said, noting there is pressure in all aspects of life. “Hopefully it’s a life lesson I can teach the girls.”

Smith will take over the Class 3A defending champions -- Aldridge’s sixth state title with the Falcons. Aldridge resigned last month after winning 710 games in 32 seasons at Prairie.

“A lot of people think it’s kind of crazy,” Smith said. “We all know Al’s history. I just felt it’s a great opportunity. With my background and experience, I don’t think, I know I can do this job. It’s an awesome opportunity and really looking forward to getting there and doing my best job.”

Travis Drake, Prairie’s athletic director, announced the school’s decision Monday morning.

Smith has a longtime history of coaching in Clark County, and Drake said he spoke with several other coaches who have worked with him.

“He is a man of tremendous character. He understands how to teach the game,” Drake said. “He’ll hold these kids accountable. That’s what they’re used to.”

Smith has seen the ups and downs, in terms of wins and losses, during his coaching career.

A 1985 graduate of Mountain View High School, Smith was the head coach of the Nenana Lynx when he led that program to an Alaska state title in 1994.

His first job in Clark County was as an assistant with the Fort Vancouver girls program. Later, he became an assistant to the Hudson’s Bay boys program under Bob Benson and also spent time as an assistant at Evergreen, under John Triplett.

From there, he joined the staff at what was then the new Heritage High School. Eventually, he would take over the top job at Heritage for six seasons from 2002-08, posting a 26-90 record.

After Heritage, he took off three basketball seasons before returning this past winter as an assistant with the Prairie boys program.

However, those last seasons at Heritage were of a concern for Drake. The Timberwolves struggled on the court, finishing 3-17 and 0-20 in Smith’s final two seasons.

“We all have our own reputations. Mike’s had been negatively affected by the level of success he had at Heritage,” Drake said. “Having a guy coming from that situation and coming to a situation like Prairie, we needed to make sure it was a good fit.”

Drake said Smith addressed those concerns.

“He has a clear vision for what he wants to happen here,” Drake said. “He wants to continue many of the things we have in place. Over time, he will put his stamp on it.”

“I’m honored to be picked,” Smith said. “We all know it’s the premier program in the state. I’m really humbled and honored that Travis and his support (team) picked me to be the next coach.”

He also appreciated Kyle Brooks, the boys coach, for supporting Smith’s desire to leave the boys program to take over the girls program.

It is not just any job, either. Drake said he made that clear to Smith.

“He’s not going to really get the opportunity to have patience from the community,” Drake said. “That’s why a lot of people shy away from it. He needs to be successful immediately. Otherwise, the community won’t accept it. That’s a huge challenge.

“The reason people don’t want to do it, in a typical situation, you’ll have some time to be successful. Here, you don’t have that time.”

Regardless of the weight of expectations, both the AD and the coach expect this to be a long-term relationship.

“I could see him being the head coach here for the next 15 to 20 years,” Drake said.

Smith and his wife Laura have two young daughters, Claire and Adelyn. Smith said he would like to be there when his oldest daughter, Claire, attends Prairie in about eight years.As far as coaching strategies, Smith said he is not looking to change too many things from the most recent Aldridge seasons. He appreciates defense, and knows the Falcons understand how to play defense.

“My philosophy, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” Smith said.