I still remember the day like it was yesterday. About 6 years ago, I came home from work to discover that Tubby Smith has been hired to become the new head basketball coach for my favorite college basketball team, the Minnesota Gophers. I had to check several sources to determine whether this was a true story. A legendary coach was going to lead my Gophers! How did they possibly steal Smith away from Kentucky? I had visions of several Big Ten championships and many long run NCCA tournament runs for the Gophers. It was bound to happen. We got a steal, a guy who won a championship at Kentucky and was regarded as one of the top college coaches in the nation. If someone would have told me at the time that Smith would be fired in 6 years, I would have told them to visit their personal psychiatrist. There is no way that would happen. But it did!! After several disappointing seasons and unfulfilled expectations, Smith finally got the boot.
Many of the big name commentators in college basketball cannot understand why Smith was let go. One play by play guy even heaped praise on Smith for going to 3 NCCA tournaments in the last 6 years. But the fact of the matter is that Smith just did not get the job done here in Minnesota. So what if he took the Gophers to 3 tournament appearances! His Big Ten record was well below 500, his recruiting record was very mediocre which is crucial measuring stick for a college coach. A few of his key recruits left school and transfered. His record at Minnesota does not justify him getting a big contract. As Gopher fans, we expected much more and Smith’s tenure did not deliver what was expected from the program. Maybe Kentucky knew all along about this guy.
There are expectations that a new coach will be hired within a few weeks. Shaka Smart would have been an excellent new hire but apparently he is staying put with VCU. I hope they will look at Brad Stevens or Andy Enfield, the coach of Florida Gulf Coast. These guys are among the brightest and best young coaches in the game. Stevens might be one of best coaches in the country. I would love to have him coach here but the odds of having that happen are somewhat slim in my opinion.
There are many pros and cons of taking this job. Any coach would love the challenge of coaching in probably the best and most competitive conference in college basketball. The exposure the Big Ten gets is amazing and I think any coach would love to coach in a big time conference. However, the Gopher program has a few issues with their facilities. They have no fancy practice facility like other schools have and a very old and aging arena. I think it would be very hard to sell the program to some recruit with those conditions. I personally believe their lack of a practice facility hurts them more than they want to admit. Otherwise, the university is a very solid place with great fan support and the Twin Cities is a wonderful place to live despite the weather.
I think the AD Norwood Teague made the right decision. I believe he will bring in a coach who will turn things around and make the program a consistent winner. I was very impressed to hear him talking about the importance of having a good recruiting record in his search for a coach. You have to bring in those blue chip players and more importantly, develop them. That was the knock on Smith. I wish Tubby Smith the best of luck in whatever future plans he has. He was a classy coach who ran his program the right way but in the end, his poor Big Ten and recruiting record did him in. I never imagined Smith would get fired but he simply did not meet expectations of the program. I commend Teague on raising the bar for the program. Finishing 6th place or lower every year is simply not good enough for us long suffering Gopher’s fans. We expect a lot more.