MINNEAPOLIS - Back in 2002, the University of Minnesota proposed to cut three of its athletic teams, and men's golf was one of the programs on the list. What followed was something right out of a Hollywood movie.
The Golden Gophers got a one-year reprieve by winning the Big Ten championship. But, it didn't end there.
The team finished off the dream by winning the school's first-ever NCAA championship in Columbus, Ohio, capping off the historic win when sophomore Justin Smith, a former Franklin resident, buried a putt on the 18th green.
Fast forward to Monday when Smith, now 37 and one of the most decorated golfers in school history, was named head golf coach at his alma mater by Director of Athletics Mark Coyle.
"Justin is the right person for the job," said Coyle, who was one of the individuals who fought hard to save the golf program back in 2002. "He has a relentless work ethic that dates back to his playing days when he was an All-American and national champion. I know he will be a tireless recruiter and will give everything he has to our students and men's golf program. I'm excited for him to lead our team and know he will do a terrific job."
Smith, who succeeds John Carlson, is the program's ninth head coach. He spent three years as an assistant coach and the past two years as Minnesota's associate head coach.
"It is such an honor to be the head coach of our men's golf team," Smith said by phone Monday night. "This program means so much to me.
"I know I've got a lot of work to do, first of which will be to hire an assistant coach that shares the same goals that I do, and that is building the Minnesota golf program back into the national spotlight that it was for many years."
Smith has a solid golfer to build around as junior-to-be Angus Flanagan from England, was the Big Ten medalist this past spring.
"Angus is a talented golfer that we're hoping to build around," Smith said. "Our team is made up of players from around the world, but we'll be looking to add even more talent for this fall. I'm looking forward to the opportunity of working with our players and bringing Minnesota back to the top tier of the Big Ten. We've been stuck in the middle of the pack in recent years and it's time we start to climb back up the ladder."
Smith's athletic exploits at Franklin were brief, but spectacular. He was a starting pitcher on the first of Franklin's three straight state championships in Little League and later qualified for the PIAA state golf championships as a freshman. He moved to Moon Township and made it to states his final three years of high school, finishing fifth as a sophomore and 25th as a junior before becoming the Pennsylvania state champion as a senior.
Smith, who was inducted into the "M" Club Hall of Fame in 2018, finished in the top 10 of three Big Ten championships and earned All-Big Ten and All-Big Ten championship team honors in both 2003 and 2004, years in which he served as team captain.
Following his collegiate career, Smith enjoyed success on the NGA and Web.com Tours. He won the NGA Tour's 2005 Players Turf Classic, the 2006 Touchstone Energy Open and the 2007 Guatemala International Open. His best finish on the Web.com Tour was second place in the 2009 Miccosukee Championship.
Smith and his wife Trisha, whom he met at college, have a four-year-old daughter Eleanor. He is the son of former Franklin residents Hugh and Melissa Smith of Hilton Head, South Carolina.