When Rick Pitino left Kentucky for the NBA’s Boston Celtics, Orlando “Tubby” Smith was hired in his place for the 1997-98 season. In his first year, he lead the ‘Cats back to the NCAA Championship game and defeated the late Rick Majerus’ Utah Utes 78-69. The championship run included a comeback wins over Duke, Stanford, and Utah on the way to Kentucky’s 7th National Championship. Smith compiled 263-83 record with Kentucky, including 5 SEC Regular Season Championships, 5 SEC Tournament Championships, and 4 Elite Eight finishes in his 9 years after the ’98 season.
After the championship season, Tubby never reached the Final Four again and that was sub-par in the standards of Kentucky basketball. The ‘Cats were a constant fixture in the 8/9 seed matchups for the NCAA Tournament, and were always bounced in the next round by the #1 seed. Tubby’s slower, defensive oriented style of play did not go over well with Kentucky fans who were used to a fast-tempo, and upbeat offensive attack. After the mediocrity in the tournament and in recruiting, Smith felt enough pressure to flee for Minnesota.
In 2007, Smith boarded a plane to Minnesota and accepted the job as the university’s next head coach. He was promised a new practice facility, appreciation, and lower expectations with the Golden Gophers. The same kind of mediocrity and sub-par recruiting efforts are dooming the coach once again. After defeating UCLA in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Minnesota moved on to take on SEC Regular-Season Champion Florida Gators. The #3 Gators hammered Tubby and the Gophers 78-64, ending their season and Tubby’s tenure.
I’m not sure where Tubby Smith goes from here. He’s a great guy for any community, and a great ambassador for any program. My heart has always ached for Smith because of the way he had to leave Kentucky. However, he did have to leave. I didn’t agree with the “for sale” signs in his front yard, or calling him “10-loss Tubby”, but I agreed the program needed to go a new direction. At Minnesota, the athletics director said after firing Smith, the program needs a new set of eyes. First of all, Minnesota made a limited investment into Tubby. That new practice facility he was promised? Not a shovel in the ground yet, and that was 2007. The facilities are mediocre at best. The recruits that see their old gym they call “The Barn” don’t think of the history, they just see an old building. For an overrated job like Minnesota, the program may need a new set of eyes, and a brain too. Get back to me when Minnesota has a better coach than Tubby Smith.
Here are some Twitter reactions:
It will be 15 years ago next week that Tubby Smith won the 1998 Championship, I think it’s about time he gets a banner in Rupp Arena. As for Minnesota, good job on firing the first coach to lead you to an NCAA Tournament win in 16 years.