Tubby Smith and other Gophers head coaches were invited to a question-and-answer session with "U" president Dr. Eric Kaler on Saturday. It was their opportunity to talk with the individual who will be solely responsible for hiring their new boss.
That new athletic director will be busy this summer, but perhaps his or her biggest decision will involve what to do with Smith's contract. One way or another, something is expected to happen before next season starts. That's why Smith, I'm sure, had a few suggestions for Dr. Kaler.
Smith, the state's highest paid employee, turns 61 in June and is under contract through the 2013-2014 season. It contains a buyout of $2 million until May 1, 2012, and reduces to $1.5 million until April 30, 2013. In other words, unless Smith retires (doubtful) or leaves for another job (even more doubtful), neither of which would require him paying a termination fee, he isn't going anywhere for the foreseeable future. It's a great contract and another example of an attorney/agent out-negotiating the University.
The question then becomes what to do when Smith and his attorney, Ricky Lefft, insist that an extension is necessary for recruiting purposes. They've held that stance for nearly two years, and nearly had an agreement last summer.
The case for Smith:
The case against Smith:
The simple solution, especially if they make the NCAA tournament this year, is to extend him
The more complicated stance is to do it, but to make it a Tim Brewster or Don Lucia-like extension with protection for the University.
Would Smith go along with that? Does he really have much of a choice unless he's comfortable with retiring or working part-time for an NBA team?
As fascinating as the rest of the season will be, the offseason will be the same.
When Gophers coach Tubby Smith told the Star Tribune's Sid Hartman in Sunday's paper, "I'm not going anywhere… I'm going to finish my career here," my first thought was: why would Arkansas, Georgia Tech, or North Carolina State want a soon-to-be 60-year old whose worst professional stretch came this year? My second thought: did Sid hear Tubby correctly? For sake of this blog, I'll assume yes.
Fact: against everyone in the Big Ten except Iowa, Smith is 26-40. He also has yet to do what former coach Dan Monson could: finish a conference season in the top 4.
Opinion: the program is in far better shape than when he took it over, and to think that the "U" could do better is foolish (Flip Saunders hasn't recruited since the mid-80's).
It's just time to realize that Smith has had a really bad year. Not only did he miss out on top-flight recruit Cory Joseph (Texas), but he also swung-and-missed on Trevor Releford (Alabama), Ricky Kreklow (Missouri), and Alex Kirk (New Mexico). The freshmen he brought in who played – Mo Walker, Austin Hollins, Chip Armelin, and Maverick Ahanmisi - might have promising futures, but did little this season.
Center Colton Iverson regressed, while center Ralph Sampson III and forward Rodney Williams Jr. didn't improve.
Smith struggled mightily to design plays in clutch situations, failed to find the right balance countless times with his substitution patterns, and couldn't keep Devoe Joseph interested enough to not transfer.
If this blog sounds a bit negative, it is. By the end of Smith's fourth year, I expected at least one NCAA tournament win. But I also realize that a) the Gophers were two injuries - Al Nolen and Walker - from likely becoming the first team in program history to make three consecutive NCAA tournaments, and b) Smith is still a capable coach, in spite of what many have suggested in the last few weeks.
Maybe this season will rejuvenate Smith. Based on recent recruiting trips to California, Tennessee, and Illinois (more than normal over a two week stretch in-season), maybe the fire still burns; maybe he's not here just to collect large paychecks and allow his son, Saul, to work alongside him.
So... let me make sure I have this right: Gophers' center Ralph Sampson III couldn't grab a key rebound with 30 seconds left against Michigan State on Tuesday night because of, what, all the snow this week? Would it be too much to ask him to walk across the street to lift weights with 10+ inches of snow on the ground?
There are rumblings that Gophers' coach Tubby Smith badly wants a practice facility; that he quietly wishes that "The Barn" would be replaced; and that North Carolina State and/or Georgia Tech will call soon. But what about evidence that he's getting better at designing plays; that more guys than not improve under him; or that he has some semblance of an offense?
I am not yet ready to offer Colorado State's Tim Miles his dream job, or to beg Flip Saunders to come back home. Despite a 26-37 Big Ten record against all schools not named "Iowa," I will not be calling for Tubby's head like some misguided souls on Twitter. I am only slightly bothered by Tuesday night's collapse; the worst in Smith's three-plus years here. I just want some accountability.
“I can’t say enough about our lack of ball-handling,” said Smith after their sixth loss in the last eight games. “We’ve been doing ball-handling work in practice, trying to be strong. But I guess we have to do more of it.”
Tubby on forward Trevor Mbakwe: "He's got to learn to post up and hold his seal."
Just once, I would love to hear him say, "I did a poor job of preparing my team, and could've done a better job in-game." Smith was said to be very soft-spoken and short with his responses. Why do you suppose that is? This year is not all his fault, but to suggest that he is blameless is asinine. That's why, just once, I would like to hear him accept some responsibility.
Reality: Tubby is having a bad year coaching. It's hard to remember any key play out of a timeout even appearing as if it had a chance to succeed.
The Gophers have three consecutive single-elimination games. Win them all -- which is possible -- and Smith will likely accomplish what none of his predecessors could: take the Gophers to three straight NCAA tournaments. According to the Big Ten Network, the entire conference has just four non-conference wins vs the RPI Top 25. Two of them belong to the Gophers: North Carolina (11) and West Virginia (21). But slip just once, and a below-.500 Big Ten record will produce a date with the National Invitational Tournament.
Maybe at that point Smith would accept blame for failing in a college basketball season where more teams than ever -- 68 -- make the only tournament that matters.
To suggest that 2010 was an interesting sports year -- at least locally -- is like calling Milwaukee the drunkest city in America, saying that Hugh Hefner needs to take Viagra, or that Doc Brown never ages in the Back to the Future movies.
In other words, it would be stating the obvious.
Brett Favre broke hearts. There were coaching changes, postseason failings, and regular-season ineptitude. We saw a beautiful new baseball ballpark open, and the can-do-no-wrong hometown hero sign the fourth-largest contract in baseball history. We even experienced Wolves VP of basketball operations David Kahn get fined $50,000 for talking about Michael Beasley's former love of the wacky tobacco.
With 2010 drawing to a close, I wonder what might 2011 bring.
In no particular order, here are some guesses:
• Bert Blyleven will finally (and rightfully) enter the Hall of Fame. Foolishly, Jack Morris will not.
• The Gophers football team will score a meaningful victory. The more people I talk to, the more I hear about what a great hire Jerry Kill was. With Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska at TCF Bank Stadium, Kill will find a way to win one of those three true rivalry games.
• After saving a ton of money by hiring Kill, Maturi finds a way to get basketball coach Tubby Smith the practice facility he was promised years ago.
• Smith, in his fourth year with the Gophers, finally will win an NCAA tournament game.
• Smith will be wooed by a couple of ACC schools, and at least one NBA team (Charlotte?).
• Former Gophers recruiting coordinator Dan Berezowitz will somehow continue to berate local reporters.
• The Gophers hockey team will unfathomably miss the NCAA tournament for a third consecutive year.
• Leslie Frazier will be named Vikings head coach.
• Ray Edwards, among others, will be a former Viking.
• The Vikings draft a quarterback in the first round -- either Arkansas' Ryan Mallet, Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, or Washington's Jake Locker.
• The VIkings play the 2011 home season -- because there will be no lockout -- at TCF Bank Stadium.
• The Legislature will reach agreement on a new Vikings stadium bill.
• The Twins will not be as bad as many fans think -- still lots of time to make moves this offseason -- but won't win the A.L. Central.
• Wild TV analyst Mike Greenlay will blame the officials for at least one loss.
• Wild coach Todd Richards, whether deserving or not, will be the scapegoat for a non-playoff season.
• Forward Andrew Brunette, among others, will leave during free agency.
• Jonny Flynn, Corey Brewer, and Sebastian Telfair all become ex-Wolves.
• Ricky Rubio won't be with the Wolves -- yet.
• Ted Robinson and Bob Kurtz will do a great job on the Twins radio broadcasts.
• JJ Hardy will have significantly better numbers than Alexi Casilla.
• Pam Borton will struggle mightily, but Maturi won't cut the chord.
• In spite of a horrific performance on Thursday night vs. Stanford, UCONN's Maya Moore will be the Lynx top pick in the WNBA draft.
• A prominent local sports anchor will plagiarize verbatim Jon Krawczynski's work again.
We can look back on these predictions a year from now -- I promise to not hop into Jake Nyberg's DeLorean and travel back in time to ensure 100% accuracy -- so list your local sports prognostications for 2011 below.
Back by popular demand; okay, for my Mom and Dad, we have again raided the Star Tribune mail room and dusted off letters sent to former long-time columnist Dan Barreiro:
Donovan McNabb will be traded somewhere in the next few weeks; maybe to Oakland, who apparently is willing to take him without a contract extension in place. McNabb is a free agent after the season. He plays for the Raiders and, like all superstar players, will then control his own situation. He wants to play for you, coach Brad Childress and quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers, so why not let it happen? You can sign him as a free agent, or trade a middle-round pick if the Raiders attempt to use the franchise tag, and have your quarterback for at least three seasons.