Want to keep up with everything Cornell sports? Sign up for our biweekly sports email newsletter and stay up-to-date with the Red. Click here!
If you walk into Artie Smith’s ’96 office, it is impossible not to notice the All-America plaques that act like wallpaper on three of the four walls. While Smith has had a hand in earning much of the hardware, the earliest of awards date back to before even his predecessor, Rich Bowman, had his time at the helm.
When Smith was promoted to head coach of the Cornell women’s track and field and cross country team at the start of the year, it signaled a changing of the guard — and offices — for himself and Bowman, but the two hope the long-standing excellence the program boasts continues with a new face in charge.
“This office represents the history of the program,” Smith said. “We are simply occupants of something so much bigger than ourselves.”
When asked to step into the head coaching position, Smith said the decision was “a no-brainer.” A former captain himself with the Red, Smith has deep roots in Ithaca, and this season marks the beginning of his 19th year coaching for Cornell.
Bowman and Smith reminisce on their history together just as any pair of old friends would do. Bowman is Smith’s longest friend at Cornell, but their relationship extends far beyond serving the Red. In the fall of 1991 — Smith’s senior year of high school — Bowman had his eyes on Smith’s running abilities and how they could fit into the Cornell program.
“I knew the recruiting piece was going to be easy when I went to his house and he had all of these Cornell plaques up in his den because his parents went to Cornell,” Bowman recalled of recruiting Smith. “I sat down with his parents and they were wondering if I could get him to come to Cornell. I looked around and said, ‘This is going to be pretty easy.’”
Both from Illinois and hardcore Chicago White Sox fans, Bowman and Smith take pride in the loyalty they have learned from growing up in the Midwest. However, both share their strongest allegiances to Cornell. In the collective years they have dedicated to the program, it would only make sense that they interact as if family.
It is this sense of family the two try and instill when leading their respective athletes. For Bowman and Smith, a change in leadership does not change the tradition of the program.
The pair’s respective paths to the head coaching position are nearly identical, giving them an added sense of camaraderie.
“The coaching profession is a process just like anything else,” Bowman said. “Too many young coaches are being thrusted into a position of authority without any preparation when they get in there. [Smith] had walked through the same hoops that I walked through when I got here. We were volunteer assistants, we were graduate assistants, assistant coaches. So in working our way up the food chain, we were able to see what it takes to be successful.”
This process clearly works for the team. Keeping the leadership “in the family,” as Bowman and Smith both mention, is necessary when managing a 90-person team, and Smith knows the ins and outs of the program just as well as anyone else.
Over the past 20 years, the duo’s teams have consistently been successful, raising the bar for not just the Cornell teams that follow, but for the entire Ivy League. The league has become the power-conference in the East for track and field and cross country and boasts some of the most dynamic athletes. Despite some barriers that come with Ivy League recruiting — high academic standards, eligibility constraints, no athletic scholarships — Bowman and Smith have teamed up to bring in talented student-athletes year after year.
“We are always trying to reach a higher mark,” Bowman said.
With less on his plate as assistant coach, Bowman will be able to focus more on his sprinters and hurdlers, as well as continuing to recruit top-notch athletes.
“I know from personal experience he’s really good at it,” joked Smith, who was recruited by Bowman.
In the two’s eyes, what they call “The Cornell Way” of success has become the standard for the Ivy League to try and match.
“Our team has been consistently successful for over 20 years,” Smith said. “I think to some degree, that’s been one of the factors in lifting the whole league.”
While tradition is important to the pair, they know they cannot carry on as they did 20 years ago; the program has grown considerably since Bowman and Smith first started at Cornell.
“How do we raise the bar without compromising what is important to us?” Smith presents as the greatest challenge that comes with his new role. “We have to rely on the leadership that is already there: our captains and the team set the tone.”
This year, Smith has inherited five captains, representing each event group for the sport. He describes his role as simply making sure everyone is on the right track and has the resources they need to be successful.
“The thing that makes me so happy is all of the things that are still the same from when I was a student-athlete,” Smith said. “We have the same sets of challenges and the same experiences.”