Gophers hire instant credibility with Tubby Smith

  • Article by: JEFF SHELMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 23, 2007 - 12:06 AM

The hiring of Kentucky's Tubby Smith as the next Gophers men's basketball coach gives a significant boost to Minnesota's reputation after years of decline.

Tubby Smith

Tubby Smith enters the University of Minnesota's Bierman Field Athletic Complex Thursday evening. In the blue shirt is Tom Wistrcill, associate athletics director for external relations.

Photo: Renée Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Joel Maturi's goal when he began looking for a new men's basketball coach was to give the program "a shot in the arm." The University of Minnesota athletic director certainly accomplished that Thursday.

Instead of landing a hot, young coach, Maturi hired Tubby Smith, the current -- but embattled -- coach at traditional college basketball powerhouse Kentucky. Smith replaces Jim Molinari, the interim coach since Dan Monson was fired Nov. 30.

Smith, who arrived in the Twin Cities on Thursday afternoon, will be formally introduced today at noon at Williams Arena. He has agreed to a seven-year contract worth $1.7 million per season, plus incentives for both basketball and academic performance.

Smith won the 1998 national title and went to 10 straight NCAA tournaments at Kentucky, but was under pressure after failing to get to the Sweet 16 the past two seasons.

He left Kentucky with four years left on his contract.

"You always want to be wanted," Smith told the Lexington Herald Leader. "You know they have a need."

It's a move that brings instant credibility to a Gophers program that has been in a downward spiral for much of the past decade.

After reaching the 1997 Final Four, the program was gutted by an academic fraud scandal and virtually dropped off the map in the Twin Cities sports scene.

While Monson improved the off-court image of the program, he didn't have enough on-the-court success and accepted a buyout package seven games into this season.

In 16 years as a head coach, Smith has a record of 387-145 (.727) and entered this season with the 10th highest winning percentage among active coaches. Only Arizona coach Lute Olson has a longer streak of consecutive 20-win seasons than Smith's 14.

A strong defensive coach and motivator, Smith led the Wildcats to four Elite Eight appearances in the NCAA tournament, five Southeastern Conference titles and five SEC tournament titles in 10 years at Kentucky. Before arriving in Lexington, Smith -- who has never had a losing season -- reached the Sweet 16 at both Tulsa and Georgia.

"As soon as you say Tubby Smith ... it's a big name," Gophers guard Lawrence McKenzie said. "He brings a lot of respect and experience to our program.

"He definitely brings a lot of experience. He knows what it takes to win. He's won a national championship. We need that type of aura in our program."

Why Minnesota?

Why would Smith leave one of college basketball's blue bloods for a school that went 9-22 this season and finished ninth or worse in the Big Ten in three of the past four seasons?

For all of the success Smith had at Kentucky -- he reached 10 consecutive NCAA tournaments and never lost in the first round -- he was also routinely criticized.

His national title was dismissed by some because the team consisted of players recruited by former coach Rick Pitino. Smith was criticized for not returning to the Final Four since. He was panned for not landing the elite of the elite high school players.

"As much as he's done at Kentucky, it was never enough and it probably wouldn't be for anybody," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who serves with Smith on the board of directors of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. "It's no fun to live that way. Did it totally surprise me that he'd leave there? No.

"He's tough, he's good, he runs a clean program, he's great. I'm sounding like I'm going to be his recruiting coordinator. I just love him. To me, he's a special guy. I think it's great for our league; it's great for Minnesota."

Those sentiments were echoed by Detroit Pistons coach Flip Saunders, long rumored as a candidate for the job.

"Being an alumnus, that's a great selection for them," Saunders told reporters before the Pistons' game at Houston on Thursday night. "He's going to really invigorate that city, put a lot of enthusiasm back into that program. ... It's going to take awhile, when you're where they're at as far as not winning many games. It's going to take a little bit of time, but that's a great choice for them."

The deal appears to have come together very quickly. A Kentucky spokesman told reporters in Lexington that Smith met with Wildcats athletic director Mitch Barnhart on Wednesday night and gave no indication he was leaving.

Maturi, who will not comment until today, called Barnhart on Thursday morning and asked for permission to speak with Smith.

Smith, whose first name is Orlando, met with his team and staff in Lexington on Thursday afternoon and then boarded a private plane and headed to Minnesota.

Significant rebuilding

Maturi clearly used the strategy that you have to spend money to make money, as Smith's financial package should place him in the top one-third of the Big Ten.

Early indications are that Smith will rejuvenate a fan base that had grown apathetic.

After averaging near-capacity crowds throughout the 1990s, attendance dropped significantly at the 14,625-seat Williams Arena. This past season, the Gophers averaged only 10,438 tickets sold and had only two crowds larger than 12,000.

The number of actual bodies in the building was often significantly less than the announced attendance.

"This was once the hottest ticket in town," former Gophers captain Al Nuness said. "The last couple years, I couldn't give away Gophers tickets. I think you're going to see an immediate turnaround now. Anyone who knows Tubby Smith, and the potential of this program, better get back in line for season tickets."

In addition to rebuilding interest, Smith has a lot of work to do as a coach.

This past season was a winter filled with low-lights, including an exhibition loss to Division II Winona State, a school-record for most losses in a season, the fewest victories in 20 years and a season-ending nine-game losing streak.

But now they have that shot in the arm.

Staff writers Dennis Brackin and Chip Scoggins contributed to this report.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Los Angeles - LP: B. Wilson 7 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Grimm 8
Detroit - WP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: J. Shields 2
Philadelphia - WP: J. Williams 3 FINAL
Oakland - LP: D. Otero 0
Toronto - WP: M. Stroman 6 FINAL
NY Yankees - LP: C. Capuano 3
Arizona - LP: T. Cahill 1 FINAL
Colorado - WP: E. Butler 5
Boston - LP: R. De La Rosa 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: C. Tillman 7
Milwaukee - WP: Z. Duke 1 FINAL
Pittsburgh - LP: M. Melancon 0
Washington - WP: J. Zimmermann 3 FINAL
Miami - LP: J. Cosart 2
NY Mets - WP: J. Niese 4 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: M. Minor 2
Chicago WSox - LP: H. Noesi 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: C. Archer 3
Cleveland - WP: T. House 7 FINAL
Minnesota - LP: T. May 3
Seattle - LP: C. Young 1 FINAL
Houston - WP: D. Keuchel 10
Cincinnati - LP: M. Leake 4 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: J. Motte 8
San Francisco - LP: Y. Petit 2 FINAL
San Diego - WP: A. Cashner 3
Texas - LP: C. Lewis 5 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: J. Weaver 8
San Diego 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Dallas 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Washington 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Houston 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Minnesota 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Tennessee 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Baltimore 12:00 PM
Cleveland
Green Bay 12:00 PM
Detroit
Indianapolis 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Oakland 12:00 PM
New England
San Francisco 3:05 PM
Arizona
Denver 3:25 PM
Seattle
Kansas City 3:25 PM
Miami
Pittsburgh 7:30 PM
Carolina
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Connecticut 14 FINAL
So Florida 17
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(13) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(11) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 41 FINAL
East Carolina 70
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(21) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
SMU 6
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 FINAL
Kansas 24
Utah 26 FINAL
Michigan 10
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
FIU 3
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
(18) Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Texas State 35 FINAL
Illinois 42
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Georgia State 14 FINAL
Washington 45
Appalachian St 20 FINAL
Southern Miss 21
Miss State 34 FINAL
(8) LSU 29
Northern Ill 14 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Middle Tennessee 17 FINAL
Memphis 36
Utah State 14 FINAL
Arkansas State 21
Miami-Ohio 24 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Idaho 24 FINAL
Ohio U 36
Ball State 23 FINAL
Toledo 34
(14) So Carolina 48 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
(4) Oklahoma 45 FINAL
West Virginia 33
Ga Southern 28 FINAL
South Alabama 6
UNLV 14 FINAL
Houston 47
Miami-Florida 31 FINAL
(24) Nebraska 41
New Mexico 38 FINAL
New Mexico St 35
(22) Clemson 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 23
California 45 FINAL
Arizona 49
San Diego St 7 FINAL
Oregon State 28
(2) Oregon 38 FINAL
Washington St 31
Louisiana 9 FINAL
Boise State 34
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(25) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(12) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:00 AM
NC State
Duke 9/27/14 2:00 AM
Miami-Florida
North Carolina 9/27/14 2:00 AM
(22) Clemson
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(20) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(23) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
(18) Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(14) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(8) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(9) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(17) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Vancouver FC 0 FINAL
Portland 3
Houston 0 FINAL
Philadelphia 0
New England 0 FINAL
Columbus 1
San Jose 0 FINAL
Montreal 2
Seattle 1 FINAL
Red Bull New York 4
D.C. 3 FINAL
Chicago 3
FC Dallas 1 FINAL
Los Angeles 2
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 12:00 PM
Montreal
Ottawa 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.
Sep 27 - at Michigan TBA
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern TBA
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Vikings and Gophers do this weekend?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close
Tubby Smith