All Things Considered, Texas Tech Hits Home Run With Tubby SmithPosted by dnspewak on April 4th, 2013
Tubby Smith never finished above .500 in the Big Ten during his six seasons at Minnesota. That got him fired. His previous employer, Kentucky, essentially pushed him out after he couldn’t live up to the program’s sky-high expectations. He hasn’t reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in a decade, he’s 61 years old and his name is now more synonymous with the word “failure” than anything else. The haters might call him washed up. If you’re looking for a more friendly term, perhaps you’d say he’s simply past his prime.
So Tubby Smith’s not the hottest coaching name right now. Fine. But after Texas Tech announced Monday it had agreed to terms with Smith, it’s hard to imagine the school could have landed a better candidate for this position. The Red Raiders have a knack for reclamation projects. In 2001, it hired Bob Knight, who rebuilt the program entirely and had six fairly successful seasons in Lubbock. That risk worked, but the Billy Gillispie project went up in flames after allegations of improper conduct. All in all, Texas Tech is batting .500 in the Comeback Coaches category.
The third installment — Tubby Smith — might be the safest bet. That seems a little crazy in light of recent history. Although he did win an NCAA Tournament game this year, his Minnesota team fell apart after another blazing start. Morale was low, and after six up-and-down seasons, it was time for the administration to make a change. An aging coach with very little recent success may not seem like a classic “home run” hire, but you’ve got to consider the circumstances here. And you’ve got to ignore the critics who say that his 1998 National Championship at Kentucky means nothing because it was done with Rick Pitino’s players, or that his tenure in Lexington was a failure because he wouldn’t win the big one during his final few years, or that he wasted talent in the NCAA Tournament by, say, bowing out in a major upset to UAB in 2004. That’s not what we should define Tubby Smith by.
We should define him as a guy with more than two decades of experience as a college head coach, a guy who’s reached the NCAA Tournament with four separate schools. You can’t take that national championship away from him. You can’t take away his reputation as one of the best people in this cutthroat business, and you can’t underestimate the name value that “Tubby Smith” brings to Texas Tech. Hate to say it, but Tech’s not the greatest job in college basketball. Fan support for basketball has never been all that great, it’s not the most historic program around, and the roster needs a lot of reworking to become competitive.
But that’s why Smith is a perfect match for this job. Texas Tech took a chance on him, and now he’ll have the chance to rebuild his career by working with a young roster. He’s got a good point guard in Josh Gray, who’ll be a sophomore next year. Jaye Crockett, the team’s leading scorer, will be a senior. So will Dejan Kravic, who started to find his groove near the end of this season. Interim coach Chris Walker did a commendable job keeping this program together for one season, and he even led the Red Raiders to a win over Iowa State and managed to not finish dead last in the conference (thanks, TCU).
Smith can now work in a low-pressure environment with a team nobody expects him to win with. He’s not taking over for Rick Pitino this time, but he’ll find a way to rebuild this thing. Nobody will be watching for a while, but Tubby Smith will be back in the spotlight soon enough.