When most of his peers were busy being teenagers, Marcus Smith was already on a determined path that has, somewhat unexpectedly, brought him to where he is now as head coach of the men’s and women’s golf teams at Pima Community College.
“If you would have asked me one year ago if I’d be in the position where I’m at now, I wouldn’t have even guessed it,” Smith said.
At the young age of 21, Smith has already compiled a solid coaching resume, as well as written a book called Dream Big, Live Larger. He describes the book as a semi-autobiographical take on the trials and errors in life.
“It’s a come-up story of how someone was chasing greatness, and how the people around him believed in it,” said Smith.
“It’s kind of a motivational and inspirational book that hopefully teaches some lessons along the way.”
Smith’s passion for knowledge took him away from the game of golf, before eventually bringing him back.
Smith attended Deer Valley High School in Glendale, where he played on the boy’s golf team. Upon graduation, he had multiple offers from community colleges to play golf, but he decided to go on a different path in pursuit of his true passion: teaching.
“Ultimately, I just had a change of heart, I had a change of passion in education to be honest. That’s why I want to teach,” Smith said.
“I just said, ‘You know what? I would rather go to a four-year university and kind of give up my golfing career and focus on education.”
At that point, Smith thought his years being involved in competitive golf were over.
“Once I did that, I thought golf was done, and I put the clubs down, and didn’t play for a while,” said Smith.
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Smith chose to attend the University of Arizona. He was able to juggle coaching as an assistant on the 2018-2019 Deer Valley boys golf team while attending school in Tucson. He is currently in his senior year at Arizona, and he intends to obtain a B.A. in English.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree, Smith plans on working toward an eventual PhD on the path to his goal of teaching at the university level.
Upon arriving in Tucson around three and a half years ago, Smith wasted little time getting himself established in the world of coaching.
At Tucson High, under the tutelage of Daryl Jones and Marvin Douglas, Smith spent a year as an assistant boys varsity basketball coach.
In the 2019-2020 season, the Badgers amassed a 19-9 record which included a first-round win in the 6A state tournament. The 19 wins were the most for the Tucson High basketball program since the 2014-2015 season.
“That was an amazing experience, learning the in’s and outs of coaching and stuff,” Smith said. “I got into coaching because it was a direct communication line to students and athletes.”
In March of 2020, Smith accepted the assistant men’s golf coaching job at Pima.
“While all my peers and friends were out either partying or having the time of their lives, I was working. I was at the right place at the right time, and I met the former head coach at Pima, and he offered me an assistant coaching job with him,” Said Smith. “Obviously I’m gonna accept that. You’d be stupid to decline something like that at such a young age.”
In May last year, when the Pima athletic department was looking for a new head coach, they didn’t have to look far.
“Shortly after that, the college had a change in direction and they decided to give me an opportunity to take over as the head coach,” Smith said.
Pima athletic director Jim Monaco is thoroughly impressed with Smith’s composure and wisdom at such a young age.
“He’s very bright, and he’s really knowledgeable about the sport,” said Monaco. “When you sit down and talk to him face-to-face, you think you’re talking to a 40-year-old guy.”
Strategy for Greatness
Midway through the 2021 men’s and women’s golf seasons, Smith is focused on building a culture that achieves success on the golf course, as well as in the classroom.
“The men and women on both sides are constantly chasing greatness, and they’re doing their jobs,” said Smith. “Their job is defined as being a good student, and absolutely putting in 110 percent on the golf course.”
Being so close to his players in age gives Smith an advantage in terms of communicating with them and understanding their academic struggles. Smith meets with his student-athletes regularly to check on their academic performance, and asks for players to have a minimum 3.2 GPA.
“I check grades every other Friday,” Smith said. “They can’t fool me. They can’t give me an excuse, so we have an honest conversation about grades, academics, and their future.”
In terms of COVID-19 related issues, both the men’s and women’s golf teams have been fortunate to this point.
While many sports were effectively shut down during the pandemic, golf courses remained open. This gave the athletes the ability to golf on their own accord in the off-season.
Monaco praises Smith for staying connected with his players throughout the adversity caused by COVID-19 this past year.
“He’s done a great job of keeping the kids involved, and he’s been on top of everything he needs to do,” said Monaco.
While athletes were still able to practice outside of the team structure, the team aspect was lost a bit.
“Their personal game wasn’t really affected by COVID. Now, the overall team aspect of playing for a college, that definitely affected us,” Smith said. “We were away from our athletes for a long time, and I think that impacted our athletes’ mindset and their well-being.”
Smith gives credit to Pima lead athletic trainer April Jesse for her role in following COVID-19 safety protocols to keep the golf teams safe.
Smith views this year as a building block season for the program that will lead to future success.
“My expectations for this year are obviously that we’re going to compete, but we’re building,” Smith said. “These are the building blocks for something bigger and our athletes know it, our athletic department understands it, and I myself try to implement it.”
Freshman Victoria Peña of Tucson High is constantly working on her golf game.
“Victoria Peña is someone who I think can lead our team in the next couple years to something much greater than many people have ever seen,” Smith said.
Peña speaks highly of the coaching tactics Smith uses to calm down and inspire his players.
“Overthinking is a golfer’s biggest obstacle while out on the course especially while competing,” said Peña. “He (Smith) will calm us down in any given moment and will tell us what we need to hear in that moment. He is always preaching about a mindset on and off the course and it has helped my overall performance on the course and in the classroom.”
Peña recently finished in sixth place at the ACCAC Invitational at the Apache Creek Golf Club in Apache Junction.
“Being able to receive my first college medal at the ACCAC Invitational was a huge accomplishment for me and the program,” Peña said. “It gave me a lot of motivation and excitement because I was able to prove to myself that I can compete at this level and do even better in future tournaments.”
Smith is also excited to see freshman Andrew Rivas of Canyon Del Oro develop in the coming years.
“Andrew Rivas, on the men’s side, has a very bright future at Pima,” said Smith.
As Rivas is adjusting to the competitive level of golfing in college, he remains confident in his talents.
“I know I can contend at this level of college golf, and playing in the ACCAC is not an easy feat,” Rivas said. “I shot my lowest round in the first round of our first tournament, so I am quite excited to get back on the course and post up more good scores.”
Rivas values Smith’s coaching style, and his ability to communicate with the team.
“Coach Marcus has this ability to say the right things at the right time to motivate us as a collective group,” Rivas said. “I feel that his close proximity to our age is a big advantage. He understands our lives as both students, but also as athletes in the same age group.”
As the men’s and women’s golf teams work to improve this season, the future of the program is bright.
“We’ve got to do everything we can to compete, but whatever happens at the end of this season, we’re coming back, and we’re going to grab every bit of attention this upcoming summer,” said Smith.
For Smith, the game of golf is just that — a game. He realizes that true success in life might begin on the golf course but doesn’t have to end there.
“I tell all of our athletes it’s great to focus on golf, but at the end of the day, we want you to be great in all aspects of life,” Smith said. “We hope golf gets them as far as we can get them. Hopefully, we can transfer these athletes to Division 1, or Division 2 schools.
“But if we can’t, and that’s not an option, then we want our athletes to go be lawyers, go be doctors, go be teachers, go be something great because greatness doesn’t stop at just golf.”
The men’s and women’s golf teams are scheduled to play their first home tournament of the season on Monday, March 29, in the Pima Invitational at Randolph Golf Course in Tucson
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writing intern Kevin Murphy was born and raised in Tucson, and has followed Arizona Wildcats athletics since childhood. He is currently attending Pima Community College where he writes for the Aztec Press. Next semester he will be attending the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU where he will work towards a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies.