Kentucky's Tubby Smith is new Gophers coachby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Tubby Smith will be the new head coach of the University of Minnesota men's basketball team. For the last 10 years, Smith led the University of Kentucky Wildcats to 10 straight NCAA tournament appearances and a national championship. Some say Smith's winning record will boost excitement for the Gophers, who just finished one of their worst seasons in recent years.
Tubby Smith's basketball teams win games. Over 15 years as a head coach at Tulsa, Georgia and at Kentucky, his teams have won seven of every 10 games they've played. He has also been credited with reviving the programs at Tulsa and Geogia. Under Smith, the Georgia Bulldogs won 20 or more games in back to back seasons for the first time in the school's history.
The Gophers can use some help. Under former head coach Dan Monson, the Gophers struggled against their Big Ten opponents. During his seven-and-a-half seasons with the U of M, Monson's teams never ranked higher than 4th in the conference. And this year they finished near the bottom. Smith's hire has some optimistic that the program will turn it around.
"I think it'll be an exciting winter in Williams Arena," said former Gopher's coach Jim Dutcher. He led the team for more than 10 seasons, starting in the mid '70s. Dutcher says Smith's career record is impressive. However, he says Smith has other qualities that make him a good coach.
"I think his demeanor is good. He's demanding, but fair. He's very well prepared for the games you see him in. And you just don't read negative things about Tubby. So in total I think he's done a great job as a college coach," Dutcher said.
Dutcher says he's looking forward to seeing what Smith will do for the Gophers. And he says Gopher fans will be especially eager to see results. But Dutcher says Smith should have no problem handling that kind of pressure.
"You really don't know what pressure is until you've coached at Kentucky. It's really another story there."
"Basketball is a 365 day a year, I wouldn't say event, but it's more than that," according to sportswriter Jerry Tipton, who covers the Kentucky Wildcats for the Lexington Herald-Leader. He says despite Smith's success at Kentucky, there's been some grumbling about the team lately. The Wildcats were eliminated from the tournament in the second round this year. And Smith and the Wildcats hadn't been to the Final Four since 1998. Tipton says he doesn't think Smith was pushed out of Kentucky, but rather the coach could read the writing on the wall.
"There was no doubt that there was a lot of unhappiness among the fans and the athletic director put out a statement a few weeks ago that was very neutral. So as Tubby Smith said at the time, you could read into it what you wanted to. It certainly wasn't a rousing - we're going to pull ourselves out of this, supportive type of statement," he said.
Smith will likely receive a much warmer reception in Minnesota. Among those anxiously awaiting his arrival, is Blake Hoffarber. Hoffarber is an incoming freshman from Hopkins. He's also the guy widely seen on sports highlight shows making a game-winning 3-point shot from flat on his back.
"He's a legendary coach," he said. "He brings his teams to the tournament every year. He's got wins all the time. So, it'll be fun. I've grown up watching him. I'll have fun next year I think."
Hoffarber says Smith is the kind of coach that guys want to play for. So the school will have an easier time getting sought-after recruits to play at the University of Minnesota.
University sports officials are withholding their comments about Tubby Smith until a press conference to be held later today.
Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi knew he needed to hire a big name to revive the dormant program and was considering Detroit Pistons coach and Gopher alum Flip Saunders among other candidates.
"I'm just relieved so I don't have to answer the questions anymore," Saunders said before the Pistons played the Rockets. "Tubby's a proven winner. He's a great communicator. For Minnesota, it's going to be great for them."
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)