Kyle Smith chose to leave Columbia for the head coaching opportunity at the University of San Francisco. (Orlin Wagner/AP)

Kyle Smith chose to leave Columbia for the head coaching opportunity at the University of San Francisco. (Orlin Wagner/AP)

USF hires Columbia’s head coach

NEW YORK — Leaving Columbia wasn’t an easy choice for Kyle Smith.

A day after leading the Lions to their first postseason title, Smith was hired as the basketball coach at the University of San Francisco.

“This is a tough one,” he said. “I was out there 17 years. Friends and family were a big factor. I’m glad I help build this program and know there is a bright future here.”

He replaces Rex Walters, who had coached at San Francisco for eight seasons. He was let go earlier this month by the school.

The 46-year-old Smith led Columbia to the Tournament title Tuesday night. That capped off one of the best seasons in school history as the Lions went 25-10. The Lions became only the second Ivy League team to win a postseason tournament after Princeton’s 1975 NIT Championship.

“I feel like he changed around the culture here,” Columbia senior Maodo Lo said. “Turned it into a winning program.”

Smith, who won 101 games in his six years at Columbia, is familiar with the West Coast Conference having spent time as an assistant at Saint Mary’s from 2001-10 and before that at San Diego.

“The main keys in the West Coast Conference haven’t changed,” Smith said. “I have intimate knowledge of that conference.”

The Dons were 15-15 this past season.

“Kyle Smith brings a wealth of experience from programs that have competed at a very high level,” said San Francisco athletic director Scott Sidwell. “His knowledge of the profile of the type of players combined with a proven system that can compete for WCC championships makes him a perfect fit for USF. We welcome Kyle and his family to USF and look forward to partnering with him to bring USF Basketball back to national prominence.”

Columbia will begin a national search for a new coach.

“Kyle leaves our men’s basketball program in tremendous standing,” Columbia athletic director Peter Pilling said. “We expect our team to continue to compete for Ivy League titles and participation in the Ivy League Men’s Basketball Tournament in the coming years.”

Columbia became the first New York City school to win a postseason title since St. John’s won the NIT in 2003. The Red Storm later vacated that basketballCollege SportsColumbiaKyle Smithmen's basketballUniversity of San FranciscoWCCWest Coast Conference

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