Bears Welcome Charmin Smith Back as Head Women's Basketball Coach

June 25, 2019

Early in his remarks at the Tuesday news conference introducing Charmin Smith as the women’s basketball coach, Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton recalled what a good day he was having a couple of weeks ago.

He had just filled his last head coaching vacancy, having announced that Robyne Johnson was taking over as track and field coach.

“I thought,’Boy this is great I am going to relax for the rest of the day,’ “ he said Tuesday. “About 15 minutes later Lindsay Gottlieb walked into my office and told me she was leaving for the Cleveland Cavaliers.. That is not in my plan..This is not how the day was supposed to go.

“But that is college athletics.”

He soon began what he described as a nationwide search for a replacement. 

“You would be amazed at how many people would love to be the head coach of our women’s program at Cal,” Knowlton said. “We have been talking to people from the East Coast to the West Coast..We talked to assistant coaches, head coaches. We did not leave a stone unturned. This one name kept coming up over and over again.”

That name was Smith’s, and less than two months after leaving her assistant coaches job at Cal, she is back in Berkeley, this time as the head coach.

Several of her players were at the gathering, which was much a welcome home party as it was a news conference.

“I have so much love for this group,” Smith said indicating the current athletes in the audience. “And it’s a tremendous opportunity to be with my family again.”

And she hopes to put the family back together. She said that as soon as she got the job last week she made phone contact with all the players, including guard McKenzie Forbes, who had announced her intention to transfer after Smith left in April to become an assistant with the WNBA New York Liberty.

“I talked to all the players and let them know how excited I was to return and let them know their value,” Smith said. “I think McKenzie could have an extraordinary role as a member of this team. ...She knows how much I love her, how much I care about her. I understand that change is hard. She went through a lot because she did have very strong relationships with me and with Lindsay. I am hoping that me coming back will help her decide she wants to stay.”

Smith spent twelve years on the Cal staff under Joanne Boyle and Gottlieb after three years as an assistant at her alma mater Stanford. She was far from unhappy at Cal, but when the WNBA offer came along, she felt it was time to move on.

“I think as an assistant at Cal I had accomplished what I could.” she said. “It was time to have new challenges and I got that with the New York Liberty. And Katie (Smith, the Liberty coach) really taught me a lot right away...It gave me a lot of confidence to see that I do know how to do this, I can do this at a very high level,

“I think that it was how it was supposed to work out. I could step away for a little bit and get revitalized and come back to the new challenges I was looking for as a head coach here.”

She said she will bring her emphasis on defense back to Berkeley. 

“I am a defensive-minded player and coach, That is my mentality,” she said. “And I am looking at some areas where we struggled last year. Our defensive field goal percentage wasn’t in the top half of the Pac-12. I believe we were eighth or ninth. We were tenth in three-point percentage defensively. I think those are some areas where we need to get after it a lot more defensively and I think that will turn it into more offensive production as well.”

Smith said that with the team’s three top scorers, Kristine Anigwe, Asha Thomas and Recce Caldwell all leaving the team will need to ramp up the defense.”

Although her stay in the WNBA was brief, she was able to gain some knowledge that will help in her new role.

“It has really been fun to see different ways to develop players so I have a whole new set of drills, and new offensive sets and things that work at the professional level,” she said. “I think it gives me more credibility with our players.”

Assistant coaches Kai Felton, who has been the interim head coach since Gottlieb left, Wendale Farrow and April Phillips, who came aboard after Smith left, will all be retained. Smith pointed out that Phillips, who has a reputation as a great recruiter, would be prominent in that department, a role she previously filled herself. 

“We have added enough to let me focus on head coaching responsibilities and not have a let-up (In recruiting):” Smith said. 

Smith talked about how she came to the profession almost by accident. While she was playing four years at Stanford (three Final Fours) and as pro, she never thought of coaching. She earned her bachelor’s degree in civil and environmental engineering. After her pro career ended in 2002, she returned to Stanford and earned a master’s in the same subject. She believed her future lay in that field. 

“I played in the WNBA then I got cut..It was my; time to go,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was back in grad school to get an engineering degree I really didn’t need.

“I interviewed for an engineering position. And during that interview I was thinking, I was not ready to let go of basketball. So I went to Stanford basketball camps.

Long-time Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer had been urging Smith to think about coaching. “And Tara said, ‘I think you should look into coaching.’ 

“‘I’m not you, I don’t want to be a coach,’”

But VanDerVeer obviously knew better.

“There happened to be an opening at Boston College,” Smith said. She took it, helped the Eagles to the best year in their history. “Then Tara called me and said come home.”

Three years later she crossed the Bay and now is back again, looking for a place to live.

“I rented out my house (in Oakland), so it is occupied through May (2020),” she said.

Her former neighbors are letting her stay in a small house in their backyard, but Smith said she soon will be looking for more permanent digs.

Related Stories:

Charmin Smith New Women's Basketball Coach

Lindsay Gottlieb Leaves Cal for Role As Cavs Assistant



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