The university showed a willingness to pay for a big-name men's basketball coach, and it found a proven winner and class act in Kentucky's Tubby Smith.
The move that resulted in Tubby Smith being named the new Gophers men's basketball coach started about two weeks ago. Mark Coyle, a former marketing director for the Gophers now at the University of Kentucky, phoned Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi telling him that Smith was unhappy with his position as Wildcats coach and might be interested in the Gophers vacancy.
Nothing developed for a period, but finally on Monday, Maturi got permission from Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart to speak to Smith about the job.
Barnhart didn't want to lose Smith, but apparently, things were pretty uncomfortable for the coach in Lexington, where you win big or are gone. Though capacity crowds of 24,000 continued to pack Rupp Arena for every game, Smith -- 387-145 in 16 years as a coach and 263-83 in 10 years at Kentucky -- hadn't been to the Final Four since winning the national championship in 1998, his first season as Kentucky head coach.
Give University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks credit for allowing Maturi to pay Smith almost $1.7 million a year, nearly equal to Michigan State's Tom Izzo, the highest-paid coach in the Big Ten.
Moving from a Kentucky basketball program to Minnesota is like going from managing the New York Yankees to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, in terms of the program's success and national interest over the years.
The truth of the matter is that Smith, 55, would not have even been interested in the job unless he was encouraged by close friend Clem Haskins, who proved you can win at Minnesota.
There were rumors that Maturi was close to hiring a coach such as Xavier's Sean Miller, but the truth of the matter is that once Smith showed some interest in the job, nobody else mattered. On Thursday, Xavier extended Miller's contract through the 2015-16 season. Miller is 38.
Maturi couldn't wait for former Gophers player and assistant coach Flip Saunders -- expected to make a deep run in the NBA playoffs with the Detroit Pistons.
And despite a lot of pressure from alumni and even some in the administration, Maturi never was serious about hiring Bob Knight from Texas Tech.
Maturi's job might have been on the line had he hired somebody such as Miller or Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery, and they failed to put the Gophers program back on top.
Outside of hiring Saunders or Knight, Maturi hit the jackpot. He brought in a coach who not only is a class act and will be very much involved in the community, but also is a winner, being one of the few coaches available to have won an NCAA title.
Monson happy with pick
Former Gophers coach Dan Monson was surprised when he picked up the phone Thursday morning, getting a call from Smith telling Monson of his interest in the job and talking to him for a long time.
At the time, Monson didn't know if it was confirmed Smith was going to be Monson's successor.
"Tubby's just a class guy," Monson said. "Nobody wants to be replaced, but if you're going to be replaced by somebody in our profession, there's nobody better that you want than Tubby Smith, because he's just a great coach and a great person and he's class.
"And he was just calling me, I think, partly to find out about the job and partly just in respect that if he did take it, you know, just in respect of me, and I appreciated that."
Monson couldn't say enough good things about Smith.
"In our profession, nobody has more respect for his peers than Tubby Smith," Monson said. "Not just as a coach, but Tubby Smith is one of those people that just treats everybody with respect, whether you're a graduate assistant or another coach.
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