Add another name to the hat: Minnesota cans Tubby Smith

It seems any time a new coach is fired, the first question that pops into my mind is: why shouldn’t Northwestern go after him?

That happened this afternoon when Minnesota announced it is firing Tubby Smith after six seasons helming the basketball team in Minneapolis. Smith finished with a 124-81 record in six seasons with the Golden Gophers, leading them to three NCAA Tournaments and the NIT championship game in 2012. Smith’s final game was a tough defeat to Florida last night in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

It is tough to get a good grasp on what Minnesota expected Smith to do and why now was the time to fire him. He set foot on campus after a mixed career at Kentucky where he led the team to a national championship in his first season as Rick Pitino’s successor. He never quite duplicated that success and the impatient Big Blue faithful hungered for more.

Smith’s move to Minnesota was seen as a chance to help awaken a potential sleeping giant in the Big Ten and perform in a situation with a little less pressure attached to it.

Tubby Smith’s tenure at Minnesota, however, will be characterized with failed big man recruits like Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson, injuries to key players like Lawrence Westbrook and Trevor Mbakwe and (unfortunately) player arrests and discipline problems. The Golden Gophers never quite got over the hump.

So what would this move mean for Northwestern?

The obvious is that there is another “big” name in the pond of coaching candidates now for Northwestern to consider. Nothing is going to happen until the Wildcats have that interview with Chris Collins later on this week and Dave Paulsen’s name is still floating about too. But Smithi s a name you have to consider.

Despite his shortcomings at Minnesota, he brought in some incredible recruits and lifted Minnesota basketball to a level it had not experienced in quite some time. He took them to three NCAA Tournaments in six years when Minnesota had not gone to three NCAA Tournaments in the previous 12 years (and two of those were eliminated because of academic fraud . . . officially, you have to go back 19 years for three official NCAA Tournament appearances).

Smith turned a program around and made them successful.

The downsides to Smith is that he has always been able to get talent in but has not often delivered on his promise. It is easy to call many of his Minnesota teams — let alone those Kentucky squads — “disappointing.”

To be successful at Northwestern, you have to be able to get the most out of the talent you recruit. There are undoubtedly obstacles to overcome and depth is always an issue with the high academic standards. As Bill Carmody proved, you cannot miss on very many recruits. It is one thing to be highly touted coming in, it is another to develop into a quality player.

It is far too early to figure out what Smith will do with his future. He is obviously a solid coach who is able to recruit and knows the Big Ten pretty well.

What this also means is that another team is looking for a head coach. Minnesota is now potential competition. Like Northwestern fans, Minnesota fans are going to be circling all the big names in the coaching carousel — your Ben Howlands, Shaka Smarts, Brad Stevens and maybe even Dave Paulsens. The Wildcats will have to sell what they can offer against a team within their own conference. This can be tough to do because of all the limitations we know about when we talk about this job.

Northwestern is going to continue go through its paces and do its due diligence. The next step is the interview planned this week for Chris Collins. The Wildcats can only go from there.

  • Scott Feeney

    I think that the more important thing to take from the Minnesota and UCLA firings is that there are a couple of quality high-profile coaching openings that may be more attractive than our NU Opening.

    • Chasmo

      Good point. But the NU job has one advantage that the UCLA job and now seemingly the Minnesota job do not — realistic expectations.
      The expectations at UCLA are ridiculous and have led more than one coach over the years to bend the rules to get players good enough to satisfy the demands of the job.
      Minnesota seems to think it can be a basketball power if the firing of Tubby Smith is any indication but the last time the Gophers were title contenders they also were caught bending the rules to do so.
      NU just wants its coach to go 9-7 in the Big Ten and play in the NCAA tournament. It will not allow you to recruit renegades but it will give you several years to get the job done before the seat gets hot. The last guy got 13 years, for goodness sake!
      Still, your point in very well taken.

  • Alum Dad

    One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Many of the names being thrown around have substantial past successes in jobs that had significantly more pressure and expectations than NU. Our job would be a big step up for many of the names in the mix and a chance for redemption for others. We should look long and hard at all candidates.

    • ABC

      Look all you want, but Tubby is not the answer.

      • Alum Dad

        I don’t believe I ever wrote that Tubby was the answer. I wouldn’t , however, dismiss him without doing a thorough vetting. His past (and recent) accomplishments are a huge step up from what we have accomplished as a program.

    • DT

      Well said…

  • BG

    @ Scott Feeney – you stole my thunder. This is more about another competitor for a new coach, not about another candidate for NU. I grew up in MN cheering for the Gophers (and may or may not have a close relative in the picture of the crowd behind the bench above), so I know why Tubby was fired: His teams regress throughout the season, and his players almost never get better over their four years (or less) on campus, and he has missed out on landing most of the good in-state recruits up there. In other words, he is the anti-Fitz and absolutely should not be considered for the NU job. We need someone who can identify potential and develop players, or we will continue to finish in the bottom of the conference. Also worth noting is that the new AD at Minnesota came from VCU, so it may be a long-shot, but Shaka Smart will at least take the call.

    • Scott Feeney

      I hoping we can wrap up the Chris Collins hiring quickly. I know Duke assistants have performed poorly, but I am hoping his charisma, energy, and NBA connections can land us a few recruits that NU would not normally ever get. The first two years under a Collins regime would be key to getting us over the hump. I am not convinced that any of the other coaching candidates from Valpo, Creighton, LaSalle, Davidson, Bucknell will do any better than Carmody was able to do.

      • DT

        Hey, Feeney…

        While I have no problem with Chris Collins as NU Head Coach, sell Bryce Drew short at your own peril..

        Bryce Drew has NBA cred and experience Chris Collins can only dream of.. First round pick and time spent in the league as recently as early Y2K no less. His current exposure via television spots for the NCAA and “Axe” Men’s products, has made his historic place in in NCAA History via “The Shot” against Ole Miss in 98, visible and tangible to the 12-17 year old demo that he would have to sell NU to.. If Northwestern are savvy marketers as they fancy themselves, they will see this as an opportunity for residual promotion…

        Stating the obvious, the Drew Family Coaching Tree, is truly one of the most impressive in NCAA History, if one considers what Homer did as a Mid Major Coach, what Scott has achieved recently at Baylor, and yes, what Bryce did in winning the Horizon League.. Check the history of Horizon League coaches in the Ten.. Start with Bo Ryan and Thad Matta as prime examples.. Why not Bryce?

        Charisma and energy? Just check out the footage of him as a player and coach.. Photo op? Not bad, with a wife who is a former NFL (or is it, NBA.. Who cares…) cheerleader… And yes, it says something to guys…

        Net/net, while Chris Collins is fine, Bryce Drew is as well.. We would be lucky to get him.. Further, NU would be better off with any of the coaches from programs you mention..

        • Db

          I agree any of those coaches would be an upgrade. I assume wichita’s coach is not getting as much pub because he doesn’t have an NU connection.

          Drew would be fine, but Collins has about 10x the ‘street cred’ as drew. Collins lit up the public league for 40 regularly and has a dad the kids know and revere. Arguing drew has more cred with kids is silly. not saying that is the deciding factor, but if it is it isn’t close. Despite drew’s dad and apparently an astronaut commercial, Collins is the household name and real access to the league.

          The argument for drew is that he has been a coach and Collins has not. But until you have run a program with your own players, not sure that much matters either. See carmody, bill at Princeton.

          Not sure what lucky to get drew is…the guy probably has his bags packed and is sitting outside welsh Ryan.

          • DT

            My comment was Drew has “NBA Cred Chris Collins can only dream of”… I’ll stick to that.. I did not say Doug Collins… If you truly feel being a former Mr. Basketball at Glenbrook North having been successful against members of the Chicago Public League on occasion gives Chris, 10X the “street cred” of a player that was a First Round NBA pick (and an elite player in Indiana High School hoops no less), then you and I differ greatly on that opinion.. BTW- He got the Axe Commercial (not to mention the NCAA spiff…) because he is a legend of the NCAA Tournament, allied to say, Christian Laettner at Duke, not Chris Collins. I’d say, that brings some “street cred” dropping 40 points on say, King High School in the early 90’s would not.. I’ve seen you comment on that multiple times on LTP recently.. While a door opener of sorts, I don’t see that as the high value recruiting chip you do apparently.. Do you think Collins saying, “hey, Jabari, I scored 37 against Morgan Park in the early 90’s”, would have kept Parker in Evanston in lieu of Durham? I don’t think so.. Differ if you will..
            Finally, if Drew is packed and waiting outside Welsh-Ryan, that Winnebago sitting out on the West Lot belongs to Chris Collins… That said, I’d hope we agree, either young man could succeed at Northwestern and both bring upside.. Again, I’m fine with Chris Collins and would be pleased to see him get a shot.. Bryce Drew would be fine as well.. And we do agree, any of the coaches from programs referenced by Feeney, would be an upgrade on what NU has had for 13 years..

          • Db

            I agree with that, and probably just side on the Collins side similar to how you prefer drew. Doesn’t really make sense to pull apart Bryce’s resume as it is impressive. My point being he becomes a much more attractive candidate when he does it with his kids not his dad’s. but Collins has done it with neither, so there is that.

            I guess I have always been really intrigued by the element that Doug brings to the program. There are a couple routes NU can attack to pursue success. The first is a system plan, and we have seen how that can work out. The other is getting a couple NBA guys thru the program, because they exist and many can qualify. And I just think having Doug hanging around the program, potentially even leaving the 76ers, is something that none of the other guys can compete with.

            Bryce had the sexier career, Chris is more high profile. To 17 year olds that have never seen either play, they are white combo guards that had big college careers with chris’s being at the highest level. We know Bryce was better, I’m not sure they do, nor am I sure it matters much. But Chris walking in a living room with a legend like Doug sells the nba access and angle, and I think it’s material.

            That said if they hired Gregg Marshall I would also do a backflip.

          • DT

            Fair enough… The only variables I would suggest you consider further, would be the fact that Bryce Drew was an Asst. at Valpo for 5 years, and had some earnest input and participation into recruitment of player personnel you seemingly credit Homer with.. Sure, the father was coach, but Bryce was aboard as Asst. Head Coach and those kids that committed to Valpo knew darned well, the plan was for Bryce to take over with some seasoning.. He did and did well.. His success in the Horizon League is allied to that of Thad Matta, who was aboard at Butler under Barry Collier.. Same type scene as “coach in waiting”..
            Also, I do think Doug Collins could be of value to Chris’ efforts on behalf of NU.. That said, I’m not going to assume that Doug walks into the living room with Chris.. Further, I’m going to say Chris Collins as a soon to be 40 year old man, will want to establish his own reputation without the shadow of Coach K or Coach Doug over him.. If he does become a head coach, he has earned that right.. IMHO, he should exercise it.. His relationship with both his boss of 12 years and Coach of 4, not to mention his dad, speak for themselves, particularly in the sphere of influence we speak..

          • Db

            Fair points on Bryce, I didn’t know he was there for multiple years.

            I would not expect Doug to tandem recruit with Chris, not in the least. But if there is a top tier recruit, with nba aspirations, and a call or meeting with Doug helps you get comfortable with northwestern as a training ground…there is real value there that none of the other candidates have, at all.

            I’m sure Chris is accomplished and capable on his own. But there is no chance he would reject help in levered circumstances due to ‘pride’.

          • DT

            If a recruit, his parent/guardian or for that matter, High School or AAU Coach could be persuaded NU is the right destination for said student-athlete by talking to or being visited by Doug Collins, good to have that capability in the living room or elsewhere.. That said, important Chris establish his own legacy… Maybe he does it NU.. Enough said..

            I still like the fact Bryce Drew’s portfolio includes NCAA Tourney legend and First Round NBA pick.. I think many potential NU recruits with NBA aspirations would identify with Bryce Drew on his journey, albeit, most could not claim being Mr. Basketball from the State Of Indiana coming out of High School!

            BTW– I went to Illinois State for 2.5 years and remain a big fan of Doug Collins per that and his place on the Olympic team that got jobbed. Doug started what was a great era in the 70’s at ISU where they played Top 20 level ball and produced NBA players Bubbles Hawkins and Jeff Wilkins, after Doug.. Ton of respect for the guy as player and coach including the job he did with The Bulls..I also think Homer and Scott Drew have some cache to help a family member as well directly applicable to college hoops.. Don’t sell The Drews short.. We got residual benefit from that very capable family as well with a Bryce Drew tenure..

      • SFTFame

        Why are you so convinced that Chris Collins would do a good job? Even Gary Barnett had some head coaching experience before he came to NU. And like DT says, Bryce Drew has “charisma” and “energy,” plus a ton of experience. So do a lot of the coaches at the schools you list. Some of them have Chicagoland connections, too. Why are they relegated to “Carmody” status? What is so special about Chris Collins other than the fact that he played and coached for Coach K? Do you think he is going to bring a bunch of Duke kids with him?

        Bryce Drew is a very exciting option. The only issue with Bryce Drew is his father. Maybe things have changed, but during his most recent stint in charge of Valpo, his father was not a fan of Northwestern at all. I distinctly remember he had a story posted in the local paper comparing his salary to that of Bill Carmody’s, with their career accomplishments listed next to each other, and has been quoted before passively making disparaging comments NU’s way. Maybe NU refused to play them in non-conference or something and he was pissed, who knows. That was during the Mark Murphy era at NU, so maybe things are different now. And obviously the only thing this would affect is whether or not he’d actually come here if offered the job.

        • Db

          Head coaching experience means little unless you have played with your own players, IMO

          • SFTFame

            I would be willing to bet 99% of the head coaches in the world would pretty strongly disagree with you on this one.

          • db

            Of course coaching vs not coaching is preferred, my poorly worded point being that when predicting success of the candidates that are coaching, it is MUCH more reliable to see if they have won with their own players, or not yet.

      • PurpleHayes

        Interesting tussle C Collins v. B Drew. I take the “Drew” side, but wanted to raise an issue on Collins that concerns me, yet no one is talking about. In addition to zero head coaching experience (which has been raised), his pedigree worries me in that Collins has never had to struggle. High school star and NBA coach’s kid with all the extra attention, goes off to play (and plays very well) for the Duke juggernaut, loves it so much he stays put in heaven for 15 years (and contributes I’m sure, but also lives off the fat of the Coach K land). Where does the grit, the hard knocks, the motivation of the underdog, come from? I’ll support him if chosen, but we need somebody who can embrace the role of the sniper. If you’re recruiting for Valparaiso or LaSalle, I think you know how to try and get in on a kid when you’re not his #1 choice. You realize you have to fight for media attention, etc. I know the response will be Collins is a “proven winner”, and I respect that, but do we know he has the gumption to start from the ground up?

        • Db

          No, not at all. We don’t know anything about him. We are not talking to any sure things, assuming brad Stevens wasn’t in Atlanta this week.

  • Chasmo

    Tubby Smith = Tex Winter or Bill Foster
    Tubby Smith has had a long, successful career but that is exactly why NU should not even consider him when searching for a coach.
    NU needs a young coach with a tremendous amount of energy and drive. It does not need another old coach with a lengthy albeit successful resume looking for a place to land as he finishes out his career. NU tried that with Tex Winter and Bill Foster — great guys and great coaches who had lost the desire to put in the massive amounts of energy and optimism recruiting players to NU requires.
    NU should not trust anyone over 45 to get this job done.

    • Alaskawildcat

      I suspect we are all a bit blinded by what Fitz has been able to do but in basketball it may be more difficult to ignore head coaching experience as a qualification. A lot depends on whom he could entice to join him both as as assistants and as recruits in the near term. It is hard to imagine a now assistant having the same drawing power in his first head coaching position.

    • LondonAlum

      I agree with you Chasmo. I was at NU during the Winter years and, with the exception of Billy McKinney and a couple of big upsets, they were bleak. I saw the Bill Foster-coached Duke team in the Final Four in the late ’70s, so I was really excited when he came to NU. We know how well that worked out.

      We need to hire a young coach with great upside potential, and then give him time to develop. I think it is safe to say that Fitz, while he took over in a crisis, inherited a much more solid foundation than the next basketball coach.

  • CatAlum06

    I disagree that the MN job is competition for Northwestern’s. I have to imagine MN is a tough sell on almost any recruit not from MN, WI or Iowa. If Tubby’s performance was unacceptable, any candidate for that head coaching job will be looking long in the mirror to convince themselves they can do better. The challenges at Northwestern are totally different, and if you are the guy who takes Northwestern over the hump, you become an instant legend.

    • Cletown Joe

      To counter, NU is a tough sell on almost any recruit not from Eastern Europe (joking, kinda). And if the performance of NU’s most successful coach in half a century was unacceptable, any candidate for our job is probably afraid to look in the mirror all together for fear that the reflection will say “Are you nuts?” Any coaching job open from a major conference school has a leg up on NU’s search which is why, like it or not, Collins and his ties to suburban Chicago make him a unique fit. He might be the only guy in the discussion that would take NU over Minny or UCLA (ok, maybe not UCLA).
      To say that you will be an instant legend if you take NU over the hump is like saying the first 16 seed to win in the tourney will gain instant legend. The statement is true but it doesn’t mean you would pass up a better seed for the opportunity to be a 16 seed and “attempt the impossible”.

      • CatAlum06

        Totally agree that NU is a tough sell for recruits, just for wholly different reasons than MN.
        Any coach that Phillips hires will get significantly more institutional support than at MN assuming he’s willing to recruit true student-athletes and be a stand-up guy. To see the difference, just look at the press conferences of the Minnesota AD versus Phillips.
        I honestly think if we have a coaching candidate that also has strong interest in UCLA or Minnesota, he’s the wrong guy. It’s not that we’re better or worse, we’re just should be looking something totally different in a coach than either of those programs are.

  • JimGoCats93

    Clue for those speculating: focus on candidates with charisma and energy. BC is gone as much for the fact that he was a quite, humble stiff more than anything else. He had it going the right direction but he was not easy to like unless you were one of the kids or colleagues.

  • ctya

    Rough deal for Tubby getting fired after his best season. He’s obviously a decent coach, but we need to go a lot younger than 61.

  • As we amuse ourselves with guessing and speculation, I’d like to put out two factors that I’m guessing will be important. (1) Dr. Jim wants NU to be a destination, not just a place to punch a ticket. It’s not that for BB now, but he’ll want a coach who wants to make it that way. (2) Academic standards aren’t going to change. They are bendy, but not much, and that’s good in the longer run. Can the coaches under consideration live with that?

  • Db

    Tubby spent 5 yrs whining about their facilities. There couldn’t be a candidate with a lower probability than him.

  • alancasey

    Hard to see from our perspective as NU fans, but one concern of a potential new coach is that he will not be able to meet the standard set by Carmody. The expectation will be NIT next year and NCAA after that – The coaching community understands that Carmody and his teams were over achievers given their talent level. It is hard to imagine the coach we want (proven, recruiter, over achiever on the court) wanting to step in after the most successful coach in program history was fired. I fear a return to 0 to 4 B1G seasons :(

    • Alum Dad

      I don’t think we have to worry about any potential coach worrying about meeting the standard set by Carmody. Mediocrity is a pretty low bar.

    • db

      There are things for the new coach to consider, but concern about living up to carmody’s legacy better not be one of them. part of carmody’s problem is that somehow the bar got shifted to our goal in life being .500 in conference and hopefully squeaking in to the tourney. Need to shoot higher, much higher. And no coach taking the northwestern job is focused on squeaking onto the tourney. They want to have the chance every once in a while to make the second weekend. Whether that can happen or not is a different issue, but you better believe anyone taking this job is thinking about FGCU type hype (ex the dunking of course).

  • PurpleHayes

    Minnesota chatter is all about Shaka, as their AD worked with him at VCU. But even their media doubt whether they have a chance. I do agree, though, Minnesota probably has taken “cuts” in front of us in line for many candidates. Tubby may have been the victim of high expectations, and I think he has been a good ambassador for the school and conference, but while I wish him well, he is the antithesis of what NU needs. Tubby lost his job because he was not an effective game coach–he could recruit but couldn’t do anything with the talent. (Remember his response, or lack of it, to Carmody switching to 1-3-1 defense in Evanston this year? MINN had other games like that.) We need a young, energetic coach who recruits hard but who can get the most of minimal talent. Tubby fails that last test badly. I’m liking Bryce Drew myself–good pedigree, good experience (Horizon League), has been a head coach (I believe that matters), and don’t overlook the marketing angle raised by earlier commenters. We need a face to the market to lift the program and fill seats–how easy would it be to take the guy who hit “The Shot” and transform him into taking “His Shot” in the B10?

  • cece

    according to the Tribune, Collins could be hired this week. up in breaking news.