The last thing Tubby Smith thought was going to happen was his dismissal as Gophers basketball coach.
“You stay in this business long enough and things like this happen,” said Smith, in his first interview since receiving the news Monday from Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague. “Oh no [I didn’t expect it]. I mean, why would I think something like this would happen?”
He added: “I always take the high road, know what I mean?”
Asked about his relationship with Teague, Smith replied: “Oh, I mean [it was] as good as you could have. He’d only been here a year.”
Smith said he isn’t planning on retiring.
“I’m going to coach again. I’m going to take some time and think about what I want to do. That’s all I’m going to do,” said Smith, who turned down two job offers last season to stay at Minnesota because he and his wife, Donna, loved it here.
“I’ll go to the NCAA [tournament, but] it won’t be to talk to people [about a coaching job]. I’m on a lot of committees and a lot of things involved with college basketball. So I’ll take care of my responsibilities. So yeah, I’ll be at the Final Four.”
Smith said there is always a chance of being fired if you don’t win it all. Sure, he was disappointed with the way the season turned out after having early success with a 15-1 record and a No. 8 national ranking, only to have that followed by a number of tough losses.
“That’s the way it goes,” he said. “Some things work out and some things don’t.”
Felt he was succeeding
I agreed with Tubby when he said he felt his tenure at Minnesota, where he was 124-81 in six seasons, was successful: “Yeah, hell, we won. It wasn’t like we were losers. It’s just how much you want to win? At what level do you want to win? And what level can you win at?”
Smith never got the the practice facility he wanted, but he said he believes it will happen for the next coach.
“[University administrators] know what they need,” he said. “They’ll do whatever they have to get it done. [They] have to keep working on the things to improve the program, and they will.”
Smith, who raised a ton of money for local charities, said what he enjoyed most was the relationships he built with so many people through the university.
“Getting a chance to build a relationship with the fans, and the people that work at the foundation,” he said. “That’s what it is all about. It’s not about money. It’s not about wins and losses. It’s about relationships with players. That’s why I have been in this business and got in this business as a teacher and a coach. To teach the game, that’s what I’ve always touted and that’s what I do.
“I’m in North Carolina [now]. I’m spending some time with some folks and thinking about what I want to do.”
But Smith said he knew he would be fired by the time his bosses broke the news to him.
“Oh sure, by that time, sure you knew I knew,” he said. “I had an idea. But that’s neither here nor there. I appreciate the opportunity to spend time with you. I hope I’m still a close personal friend. We’ll talk again.”
Years ago, when Smith had only been here a short time, he told me, “of all the places I’ve coached, this will be the toughest place to win.”
He wouldn’t have left Kentucky for Minnesota if he knew what he faced.
Teague and his colleagues have had good success hiring basketball coaches in the past. But none of the coaches they hired had to follow Tubby Smith, and a lot of candidates will consider that.
One of the first of his friends to arrive at the Smith home Monday after the firing was Gophers football coach Jerry Kill, who went there to support him.
I hung around that basketball team more than some of the guys who made the decision to fire him, and until the facilities are greatly improved, a coach as talented as the late John Wooden, who won 10 national titles at UCLA, won’t be able to win here.
Flip Saunders, who could wind up as general manager of the Timberwolves starting next season or as the successor to Smith, has been unavailable to his closest personal friends the past couple of days.
Either organization would benefit by hiring Saunders who, in having coached the Wolves, Pistons and Wizards, knows the game as well as anybody. Saunders also has been trying to put a group together to buy the Wolves.
I was told by a Gophers athletic department official that they will interview him about the coaching vacancy.
It would be a great hire, having been a Gophers assistant for five seasons from 1981-86, and his naming would be a popular choice. But Saunders might prefer to coach again in the NBA.
Maybe the best bet, if they can pay him a competitive salary, is former Virginia Commonwealth head coach Anthony Grant, who is now head coach at Alabama.
• The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Tuesday that a key factor in Shaka Smart’s decision to stay at Virginia Commonwealth is a commitment by VCU administrators to provide enhancements to the program such as a basketball practice facility, increased salaries for assistants and increased recruiting and travel budgets.
• Former Hopkins standout Trent Lockett played a key role in Marquette’s 74-72 victory over Butler which sent the Golden Eagles to the Sweet 16, where they will face Miami tonight. Lockett scored 13 points on 4-for-7 shooting in 36 minutes. The senior transfer also added six rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal. He scored five points and had 11 rebounds in a 59-58 victory over Davidson in the second round.
• Former Chaska standout Jake White played a key role in helping ninth-seeded Wichita State upset No. 1 seed Gonzaga 76-70 on Saturday in the West Regional, scoring five points and grabbing three rebounds. For Gonzaga, former Osseo star Sam Dower had one block in six minutes. White and Wichita State face 13th-seeded La Salle on Thursday for a chance to reach the Elite Eight.
• Facing off against White will be D.J. Peterson, a sophomore guard for La Salle who played high school basketball at Hopkins. Peterson hasn’t been putting up a lot of points, but he has played a lot of minutes and is a defensive standout for the Explorers. In three NCAA tournament games, Peterson has averaged 27 minutes per contest while accumulating eight points, 10 rebounds, six assists, one block and one steal.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org