Making an impact at the D1 level of men’s college tennis is not an easy task. Yet Peter Smith did that time and time again, taking three schools to the Top 5 of the rankings and establishing a culture that resulted in sustained success. He’s best known for his time at the helm of USC, where his Trojans became the standard in the sport.

Set to be inducted into the ITA Men’s College Hall of Fame this year, Smith sat down for a conversation on the Podcast with Kamau Murray to reflect on his life in coaching, how his dream job became a reality, and why in a new role, he still relishes every chance to teach the game to a new pupil.


Smith would go on to coach at Fresno State and Pepperdine, taking each program into the national forefront with a Top 5 ranking. When USC was looking for a new leader, he was the logical choice to follow Dick Leach’s supreme reign. The Trojans under Smith would continue to outpace the field, winning five national team titles, including four straight from 2009-12. Through it all, the coach remained true to his identity and core values as a teacher of the game.

His principles did not change as he moved up the coaching ladder, and if anything, his dedication was reaffirmed very quickly. “My whole thing in coaching was that I wanted my guys to have a complete game. I don’t care what strings your playing with, what racquet you got, it’s still hard to hit a backhand on the run passing shot at 5-4, ad-out,” the coach professed. “Take the ball early, get into the net. And that’s exactly how Pancho Segura taught me 45 years ago.”

Of course, you can’t reference the USC men’s tennis program of the early 21st century without bringing up the name Stevie Johnson. The So Cal native was a member of four consecutive team titles, claimed the singles national championship twice, and finished his career on an incredible 72-match winning streak. If there’s one thing that stood out to his coach, it was Johnson’s confidence.

“We were playing the University of Texas and he got a tight call (against him),” Smith recalled fondly. “And he looks across and he says, ‘Hey. You’ve got nine more minutes in this match. I just want you to enjoy every single one of them.’ And the assistant coach, Ricky comes up to me and goes, ‘you know the amazing thing about it was it was exactly nine minutes.”

Johnson was an excellent collegiate player by every metric, but it was his ability to put the work in and stay committed to the team that uplifted the entire program. He was arguably the most accomplished college tennis player of all-time, and he was the perfect instrument for the type of tennis culture Smith had created in Los Angeles.


This podcast is a must-listen for fans of college tennis, the makeup of great coaches, or how finding your passion in life can really lead to self-actualization on a special level. Peter Smith is currently working as the General Manager & Director of Tennis at the legendary Jack Kramer, where he is carrying on yet another outstanding legacy and remains excited about the chance to teach the game to others.

This year, Smith will take his rightful place in the ITA Men’s College Tennis Hall of Fame, but the journey doesn’t end there. Every day is a new opportunity for the coach and his favorite sport to deepen their relationship, one swing of the racquet at a time.