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.