Connie Price-Smith (photo courtesy Southern Illinois Athletics)
Sept. 16, 2015
VIDEO: Get to Know Coach Price-Smith
By Joey Jones, Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations
First published in the Sept. 12 Ole Miss vs. Fresno State football game program
JJ: Welcome to Ole Miss, Coach. So after 14 years coaching your alma mater, what brought you here to Oxford, Mississippi?
CPS: Well you know I had been there for 14 years, and I went to school there and it was kind of time for a change. I got the offer and I got a call asking if I was interested. I came down and looked at it and absolutely fell in love with campus. It’s just a beautiful campus down here and we’ve been down here for competitions but never really spent a lot of time. When I came down, it felt like another extension of home.
JJ: Your track and field career has taken you all over the world with the Olympics, World Championships and other events. How will that experience help you as the head coach at Ole Miss?
CPS: Well I think traveling and working with USA Track and Field, working with a large number of athletes and working in different venues makes it easier to come into someplace new and kind of feel it out and be able to function in it, because I’ve had experience dealing with a lot of different places.
JJ: Where did you grow up? What did you like to do when you were little and how did you get into sports?
CPS: I’m from St. Charles, Missouri. Growing up, I first started athletics when I was 12 years old. I started playing softball and that was because my one cousin started doing it and she was an athlete and she was going all over and I got to go watch her when I was little, and I said when I grow up and I’m old enough to, that’s what I want to do. So I kind of got thrown in there. I started softball at 12 years old, and then I went into every sport I could.
JJ: You were a standout basketball player in high school and college. Tell me about that transition from basketball to track and field.
CPS: Well I played basketball in high school of course, and I did track. So when I went to college, when I got recruited to Southern Illinois, originally I was going to do both and I got there and basketball was a little more demanding than I thought. I wanted to play spring ball so that I could stay in shape and stay in contact with the rest of the team there. So I decided not to do track. Then my senior year when I was finished with my basketball career and spring rolled around, I had nothing to do. I was a little bit lost, and the track coach came out and said you know maybe you could just come out and do spring track then maybe stay another year because I still had some school to finish anyway. So I did that. I stayed a fifth year and did track, then it kind of just took off from there.
JJ: How was the transition to coaching after a long professional career as an athlete?
CPS: The things that I liked about being an athlete kind of just transitioned over. I knew about how to be an athlete. I knew about the travel and all that stuff, so as a coach, I just treated my athletes how I treated myself when I was competing in Europe and other places. The accolades the athletes got were just as rewarding as me getting them myself.
JJ: What was it like when you found out you would be the Olympic head coach for the Team USA women in 2016?
CPS: I was extremely excited about it. You’re selected by a pool of peers, and to be selected is a huge honor. It feels great to be able to say that you’re the head coach of the United States Olympic team. I’ve been on the Olympic team, as well as being a part of the staff, but to say that I’m the head coach is unimaginable. I never thought I would get to that position. And here I am, and I couldn’t be more honored and pleased.
JJ: In your small amount of free time away from track and field, what do you like to do?
CPS: One of my favorite things to do is take a vacation. I love to go to the beach. I love water and water sports in general. I enjoy reading a lot and hanging out with family and friends.
JJ: Ole Miss prides itself on being a family, having a family atmosphere. Do you feel that way about your teams?
CPS: Being at Carbondale, everything we did was a family. The athletes and administration were all in the same building. Coming here, I hope to be an extended family for the athletes that are here, and I would like everyone be a part of our family. In order to be successful, it takes a lot of hands working in the same direction for the same goal and I hope to build that here.
JJ: The Southeastern Conference is arguably the best conference in just about any sport, especially track and field. What does it mean to be a head coach in this league?
CPS: I am excited to be a head coach in the SEC. I think I did well at SIU. I competed against a lot of SEC schools and the SEC coaches and I am good friends with most of them. I am excited to join their family and be a part of the SEC and compete on this level with them.
JJ: What do you value most in a student-athlete when you recruit them and develop them?
CPS: What I value most is watching them grow up to be young productive adults. To see them get their degrees and put themselves in the position to go out and flourish. To have them have good athletic careers is important, but to have the personal growth and academic success is just as important as that.
JJ: What is the value of a college education?
CPS: I tell all my kids I wouldn’t be sitting in my seat without it. That’s how important it is. It doesn’t mean it has to be in the field that you’re going to ultimately do, but to have that piece of paper is very important. Today you can’t do anything without it.
JJ: Shifting gears a bit. You were a world-class thrower and you’ve coached many since then. What are the defining qualities of an elite thrower?
CPS: To be good you have to have some talent. You can build the strength and work on the technique, but you need heart, desire and dedication. To get better at what you’re doing you need repetition, repetition, repetition. And you need someone with a good eye who can guide you to get better.
JJ: What are some of your favorite places you’ve traveled through the years?
CPS: I love Italy a lot, and I loved Spain when the Olympics were in Barcelona. The competitions in Europe are better known. The stadiums over there have great crowds, and it’s the same thing with the Caribbean when you go down there. You’ll get the same thing if you go to Oregon, because they have knowledgeable fans and that’s what makes the sport fun.
JJ: You competed in four Olympics and several World Championships. What is your favorite memory from your days as an athlete?
CPS: I don’t have a favorite as far as the actual competition itself. The one that sticks out is Atlanta. It was my first Olympics finals, and I ended up fifth - four inches out of a bronze metal - and those four inches will haunt me forever. There are moments that stand out from opening ceremonies, like the first time one of my best friends, Lacy (Barnes-Mileham), who was a discus thrower, made the Olympic team. I had known her since 1987 and she didn’t make it to the Olympics until 1996, so being able to walk through the ceremony with her was cool. She’s still my best friend.
JJ: Talk about when you became a U.S. Champion and Olympian for the first time.
CPS: My first Olympics were in 1988 (Seoul, South Korea) and I had no idea what was going on. We went to the opening ceremonies and one of the other athletes tried to give me a trash bag and I didn’t take it because I thought they were playing a joke on me. We get to the ceremony and they let the doves loose, and I knew exactly what the trash bag was for. I will remember that forever.”