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.
I'd like to say next year is make-or-break, but it's really not. By the end of Smith's fifth year, the bar has to be raised at least a little. But I am willing to except this year as a hiccup. But know this: if Smith chooses, he can coach here until he retires. He is beloved by those above him. And would you really expect athletic director Joel Maturi to do anything drastic with his contract up in 15 months?
I am just curious if Smith's iconic, Hall of Fame-esque history will ever come to fruition while with the Gophers.