Gopher Athletics today announced that Head Coach John Carlson and Assistant Coach Justin Smith will both step into new roles with the men’s golf program. Carlson, who has led the program for the past six years, will become the director of men’s golf for the Gophers, while Smith, a former Gopher golfer, will move from assistant coach to associate head coach. Both changes are effective immediately.
“As we wrapped up the fall tournament season, Coach Carlson, Coach Smith and I sat down and discussed how we could best highlight their strengths as leaders to help our men’s golf team return to its championship level,” said Athletics Director Mark Coyle. “We all agreed that this leadership structure played to their individual strengths and would be the best way for the program to continue developing student-athletes that can compete at the highest levels academically and athletically.”
Carlson took over the Gopher program in 2011. He led Minnesota to three consecutive top-three finishes in the Big Ten, including winning the 2014 team title. Freshman Jose Mendez tied for the Big Ten individual title that season, becoming the first Gopher to win a Big Ten championship since 2003. Carlson was recognized as Big Ten Coach of the Year that season. At least one Gopher has advanced to an NCAA Regional in five of the past six years with Carlson leading the team, including the full squad in 2014.
“I have loved coaching the golf team at Minnesota for the past six years but I’m very excited to move into a more administrative role with the program,” said Carlson. “This change is a big opportunity for both Justin and me to grow as professionals and learn new aspects of running a successful, championship-caliber men’s golf program.”
As director of men’s golf, Carlson will manage alumni, donor and local course relationships. He will coordinate the team’s tournament schedule and oversee practice scheduling, instruction plans, and recruiting. He will also work closely on the development and completion of the new John W. Mooty Golf Training Center, the first-ever indoor practice space for the Big Ten’s northern-most men’s and women’s golf programs.
Smith came back to Minnesota as the team’s assistant coach for the 2014-15 season. He has coached three PING All-Region competitors since rejoining the program. Smith golfed for Minnesota during his collegiate career, becoming a three-time All-American and finishing in the top-10 at the Big Ten Championships three times. He helped the Gophers win back-to-back league titles in 2002 and 2003, and was a key contributor to the program’s lone national title in 2002. Smith served as the team’s captain both his junior and senior years.
“I had an incredible experience at the U as a student-athlete, and I jumped at the chance to come back to campus and serve as an assistant coach for the program when John offered me the job three years ago,” said Smith. “I’ve been able to help young men learn and grow as students and as competitors in the same program that did so much for me as a young golfer. I’m thankful that I will be able to stay right here at my alma mater to continue that work, while taking the next step in my coaching career.”
Smith will take on an expanded coaching role as the associate head coach. While working closely with Carlson, Smith will now be responsible for individual instruction at practices and competition, as well as handling to day-to-day responsibilities of coaching a Big Ten golf program (recruiting, monitoring student-athlete experience, etc.).
Minnesota’s fall slate ended earlier this month with a third-place finish at the Royal Oaks Intercollegiate, the team’s best finish in four tournaments so far this season. The Gophers return to action in February when they travel to Florida for the Big Ten Match Play tournament.
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