An open letter to the Bluegrass State:
When Tubby Smith left the University of Kentucky to replace Dan Monson at the U, we provincial Northerners sneered at you.
Sorry. I meant to say, "Y'all.''
We assumed that if a coach of Smith's stature decided to leave one of the five greatest programs in college basketball, it had to be the fault of obsessive fans who have been known to spend entire evenings second-guessing the execution of a first-half inbounds play.
We figured a pungent blend of idiocy and racism drove Smith from a university built for and around basketball greatness, a place where he won a national title and his son played point guard.
Our suspicions were not baseless. Drive through Kentucky, and you still can find the odd Confederate flag and a museum featuring a dinosaur wearing a saddle, celebrating the belief that man and Magnosaurus co-existed.
To those Kentucky fans who based their assessment of Smith on facts and trends, though, let us apologize. You were right.
Four seasons after his arrival, Smith's tenure at the University of Minnesota is officially a disappointment.
Kentucky fans complained that Smith runs no discernible offense.
That he failed to recruit outstanding talent.
That his program had lost momentum and had slid into mediocrity.
Smith won the national title in his first season at Kentucky, with Rick Pitino's players. He continued to be remarkably successful through 2004-05, when he reached the NCAA Elite Eight for the fourth time in eight years.
Since then, Smith appears to have become a different coach. Since then, Smith's teams have been mediocre, and he has appeared increasingly aloof and sensitive.
At Minnesota, he is 31-35 in Big Ten games and has failed to win an NCAA tourney game. Since his last Elite Eight appearance, he is 49-49 in conference games and 2-4 in the tournament, despite having enjoyed the immense advantages provided by Kentucky.
If a coach without Smith's résumé had performed to that level over the course of eight years, he probably wouldn't get fired, but he wouldn't be treated as a conquering hero, either.
This week might have provided the low point of an impressive career. Smith not only coached poorly; he became whiny, an unseemly characteristic for a supposed leader of young men.
After his team lost to Ohio State last Sunday, Smith linked his team's weak play to Minnesota's lack of a practice facility. Smith actually told Minnesotans that it was hard for his players to walk across the street in the cold to lift weights, one of the most pathetic excuses in the history of sport.
After his team lost to a struggling Illinois team at Williams Arena on Thursday, Smith called out a handful of his players for gutless or unintelligent play. He even criticized Blake Hoffarber, who is playing out of position and with a troublesome knee, for failing to draw more fouls.
This is scapegoating at its worst. In college basketball, coach is king, and the program is his fiefdom. He is responsible for recruiting, player improvement, roster makeup, offense, defense, game management and public relations.
He reaps the rewards when he wins; he should accept blame when the program that is a manifestation of his skills and decisions implodes.
Hoffarber is playing point guard because Smith failed to recruit or keep enough other players who could handle the position. He ran off Devoe Joseph, whose presence would have guaranteed an NCAA tournament berth by now, and Justin Cobbs.
Thursday, Smith complained about lacking "men'' on his roster like last year's upperclassmen, Lawrence Westbrook and Paul Carter. Carter left the program. It is well-known on campus that Smith did not like Westbrook. Suddenly, Westbrook and Carter are role models?
Nearing the end of a remarkable career, Smith is becoming increasingly petty as his coaching skills appear to wane.
So congratulations, Kentucky. We thought Tubby viewed Minnesota as a place he could win. Turns out that when he looks at Goldy Gopher, all he sees is a 401(k).
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. • firstname.lastname@example.org