The news that Texas Tech is interested in Tubby Smith, and vice versa, could have big ramifications for Big 12 basketball should the pairing come to fruition.
If nothing else, the proposed meeting with Smith reinforces that Texas Tech isn’t focused at all on the up-and-comer category of candidates. After turning over the football program to 33-year-old Kilff Kingsbury, the basketball search carries a more seasoned feel. The school previously interviewed Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton, a 14-year head-coaching vet at age 42; New Mexico State’s Marvin Menzies, who’s 51; and Doc Sadler, 52, who won at UTEP, stumbled at Nebraska and is now directing basketball ops at Kansas.
Smith’s involvement also signals the Red Raiders might be willing to throw a sizable salary at the right coach. Though Smith can’t expect to transport his $2 million salary from Minnesota to Lubbock, he would command more than the $800,000 Tech gave its last full-time coach, Billy Gillispie.
In the aftermath of the Gillispie ordeal, Texas Tech represents the league’s only unstable coaching job. No other coach’s seat — not Rick Barnes’ or Bob Huggins’ — is even remotely warm.
Is courting Smith the sage move? Well, the last time Texas Tech lured a Big 10 castoff, Bobby Knight revitalized the program and steered the Red Raiders to four NCAA tournaments in six-plus seasons. Smith doesn’t have the baggage, nor the cache, of Knight, but he does have 511 wins in 22 years as a head coach.
And oh yeah, he also owns a national championship, from 1998 at Kentucky, though many in the Bluegrass State continue to give Rick Pitino half-credit for that one.
The grind-it-out perception of “Tubbyball” wore thin at Kentucky, as did a nine-year stretch with no Final Four appearances. Texas Tech fans don’t crave Final Fours, unless you’re talking about reaching the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament, something Tech hasn’t done since Knight bequeathed the program to his son, Pat.
The six-year stint at Minnesota was hardly a disaster for Smith, who went to three NCAAs but struggled to elevate the Gophers into the upper half of the Big Ten. His roster required constant retooling after a series of high-profile transfer, but rarely were those departures attributed to player/coach clashes. Royce White had legal woes and wound up at Iowa State. Justin Cobbs was a southern California kid who spent one snowy year in Minneapolis as a backup before coming to Cal. Colton Iverson was an inconsistent center who had nothing negative to say about Smith before enjoying a solid senior year at Colorado State.
Smith would lend credibility to the program, not to mention giving the Big 12 a sixth coach with Final Four experience. He’s certainly a better-pedigreed hire than Tech could have hoped to land a month ago, when it appeared interim coach Chris Walker might have done enough to warrant a permanent contract. (Walker no longer seems to have much of a shot. He remains in the mix, though only after Texas Tech fired all six of his assistants.)
Lubbock takes some undeserved ribbing, but given its location as a West Texas outpost, the reality is Texas Tech remains the second-worst basketball job in the Big 12. And as soon as TCU raises the funds to remodel its aging basketball arena, Tech might slip to the rear.
Hiring Smith, regardless of what his critics in Minnesota and Kentucky think, has a legitimizing appeal for a program that’s been out of sight, out of mind for five seasons.
HOIBERG SPURNS GOPHERS
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg declined an offer to replace Smith at Minnesota and agreed to a new 10-year contract worth $20 million, according to a Des Moines Register report Thursday night.
The Cyclones have gone 62-39 in three seasons under Hoiberg with two NCAA appearances.