Shaka Smart: Underdog Coach Made Wise Decision Staying at VCU

Ryan RudnanskySenior Writer IMarch 21, 2012

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 15:  Head coach Shaka Smart of the Virginia Commonwealth Rams reacts in the first half while taking on Wichita State Shockers in the second round of the 2012 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Rose Garden Arena on March 15, 2012 in Portland, Oregon.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

It was only a matter of time before Shaka Smart was going to receive another offer from a major program. The only question was, what would he do when that offer came down the pike?

Well, now we know.

Smart turned down an offer from Illinois on Wednesday, opting to remain with his mid-major VCU Rams. The Chicago Sun-Times reported the rejected deal to be worth "at least $2.5 million."

In his three seasons as VCU coach, Smart has led the Rams to the NCAA tournament twice, including a Final Four appearance in 2011. He led VCU to the Round of 32 this year before falling to Indiana. He was able to manage another upset along the way, knocking off No. 5 Wichita State in the Round of 64.

Smart, like Brad Stevens of Butler, is one of the top young coaches in college basketball. He's been able to revitalize VCU into a Cinderella story and has turned heads while doing so. And it's this underdog mentality that has made Smart such a good fit at VCU.

Coaching is about more than money. It's the opportunity to create magic with the talent that you do have, finding a way to put the puzzle pieces together and motivate your team. Smart is very good at this, and he's built something at VCU that no one can take away from him.

The reality is, Smart will have plenty of chances to coach at a major program down the road. What's the rush? He may not have the talent to win a national championship, but sometimes it's about more than that. Sometimes it's about proving the doubters wrong, one victory at at time.

Smart has a bond with VCU that cannot be overcome by money or the opportunity to go further in the tournament. It's the very bond many coaches dream of creating. Developing relationships with players is the very reason many coaches love what they do.

By turning down Illinois' offer, Smart is telling us why he coaches in the first place: He simply loves the game of basketball, no strings attached.


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