By CLAY HORNING
When Martin Smith became Oklahoma's track and field coach in 2005, he was already a proven commodity,
He had coached Virginia and Wisconsin to cross country national championships and, in five years as Oregon track and field coach, he'd overseen a national power, one whose men's team had just finished sixth at the 2005 NCAA track and field championships.
Smith, in what had to be considered a surprise move, resigned from OU three weeks ago to lead Iowa State's track and cross country programs.
Monday, OU hired his successor.
Jim VanHootegem may not have the head coaching experience and record of Smith, or, as a career collegiate assistant, any one at all. On the other hand, kind of like Bob Stoops before he arrived in Norman, VanHootegem has experienced fabulous success as an assistant, helping to guide national championship teams and individuals over the last several years.
An assistant coach at Texas A&M from 2004 through the most recent NCAA outdoor season, VanHootegem has been associated with 12 NCAA Division I team championships as well as 27 conference championships.
Along with Aggie track coach Pat Henry, VanHootegem has helped to build one of the nation's foremost collegiate track and field programs.
The A&M men claimed outdoor national championships in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013, while the A&M women claimed national championships in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
"We're excited to welcome Jim VanHootegem as our head coach for men's and women's track and field and cross country," OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said. "Jim has worked for and been mentored by some of the finest coaches in the history of intercollegiate track and fuel and has built his own distinguished pedigree as a coach.
"As we moved through the search process it was evident that Jim's approach has always modeled the comparable core values and team concepts that guide our athletics programs here at OU."
Prior to arriving at A&M, VanHootegem spent three years at Miami (Fla.), a year at San Diego State, three years at Mississippi State, a year at Cal-Irvine, a year at Texas-Pan American and three years at Arkansas, all in an assistant't capacity.
In 2009, by a vote of his peers, he was named national assistant coach of the year.
"I've always possessed a great admiration for the University of Oklahoma and its commitment to continually enhancing the student-athlete experience," VanHootegem said. "The opportunity to work for a program that shares my vision for its student-athletes and boasts an extremely passionate fan base s truly a special situation."
Henry may not have liked losing his top assistant, but he endorsed OU's choice.
"Jim is a good man. He is organized and knows that it takes to build a team," the A&M head coach said. "He will surround himself with people who can build an excellent program at Oklahoma and embrace those already associated with the program … He is a good friend and will be missed greatly."