Basketball coaching passion earns Erik Smiles dream job at LIU Post
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North Babylon's Erik Smiles often said he'd give his right arm to coach the men's basketball team at LIU Post. Turns out, he just had to display his heart. That is what finally won him the job six years after the now- former Division III coach at Farmingdale State first applied for the D-II opening at Post.
Smiles went after the position three times. "When I talked to him this time, it was about passion for the position," athletic director Bryan Collins said. "He knew about Post, knew about the conference, knew about our department and the success of our other teams. It was an opportunity where we saw he's been a head coach, he's been successful and his reward is to move upward and onward. We feel this is a great job. He felt the same.''
Smiles, introduced last week, said, "I want to be here for a long time. That's not just coach-speak. I'm a Long Island guy. I stayed at Farmingdale for 11 years, nine as a head coach. There were very few jobs I was interested in. That's how I feel about Post. This is a place I foresee myself maybe for the rest of my career. My role models are Tom Galeazzi, Bruce Webster, Herb Magee at Philadelphia."
Galeazzi spent 25 years at Post and Webster 34 at Bridgeport, where Smiles played college ball. Magee is in his 46th season.
"Those are the guys I look up to," Smiles said. "My dream job has always been a Division II powerhouse. That's what you have in Post."
When Galeazzi decided to retire, Smiles immediately put in an application. "We were very impressed at that time," Collins said. But Tim Cluess, who did an outstanding job at St. Mary's High School and later won a regional title at then-Suffolk CC-Brentwood, got the job.
"Obviously, Tim was our first choice," Collins said, "Erik had done a very good job [interviewing]. He was always on our radar."
Cluess left four years later for Division I Iona, and again Smiles inquired. Former St. John's assistant Chris Casey got the job.
Smiles just kept working hard at Farmingdale, where he ultimately won three Skyline Conference titles and made four appearances in the NCAA Tournament. His record at Farmingdale was 182-72.
Then Casey got the job at Niagara after Joe Mihalich left that school in April to become Hofstra's coach. And for Post, it was all Smiles.
Many programs do not hire coaches from lower divisions because of recruiting concerns. At Farmingdale, as with all D-III institutions, there are no scholarships. That just made Smiles work harder.
"Our coaches make about 25 cents an hour when you really think about it," Farmingdale athletic director Mike Harrington said. "They work around the clock, all the coaches do, but Erik in particular. There's not a day that goes by that he's not showing someone around campus. And he stays on top of his kids."
Smiles coached center AJ Matthews for his last two seasons of eligibility after the player had academic issues at several other institutions. Now Matthews is getting some NBA attention in pre-draft workouts.
Smiles said if you can recruit in D-III, you can recruit anywhere. "You have to learn how to sell your campus, sell yourself, sell your program and really sell your situation to kids without being able to offer any kind of financial incentive," he said. "You really sharpen your skills as a recruiter on the Division III level in terms of getting things done without money. I really feel if you can recruit at Division III, then you can recruit at any level. It is really the proving ground and training ground to be a high-level guy."
Collins has no doubt that Smiles will succeed, saying, "Being able to get good players in Division III without scholarships, having been a Division III coach myself, I knew once you get scholarships, it only makes you better."
Smiles never stopped following the East Coast Conference after his playing days at Bridgeport. He wanted back in as Post's coach. "Why Post?" he said. "Why the consistency in going for the job? I believe Post is the one place on Long Island that's a place you can compete for a national championship, regional championship, and have good students every year. I really think Post has all the tools to get it done. If there's any campus, any athletic department you can get that done at, it's Post."
That was proved by Galeazzi and Cluess. "Obviously, the bar has been set by those guys, which is not only being competitive in the conference but to win the region and get in the Elite Eight," Smiles said. "That's the standard we're going to have to try to achieve. I really believe with what Post offers, it's something that can be done consistently year in and year out."
Collins expects Smiles will apply the same perseverance on the job as he displayed in going after the position. "You have all you need to have here as far as facilities, scholarships and support of administration and LIU," Collins said. "If you're successful, you can move on or you have the chance to be successful over your entire career. This is where he wanted to be. He wasn't taking this job for the next job. He was taking this job for what it is -- one of the best D-II jobs in the country."