HOO Will Be Virginia's Next Basketball Coach: Tubby Smith?

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IMarch 19, 2009

Welcome to a new series where we break down the potential candidates to replace Dave Leitao as head coach of the Virginia men's basketball team.

I thought we might as well start with the most popular name and the potential pipe-dream that is keeping Wahoo Nation up at night. 

Tubby Smith may currently have a job at the University of Minnesota, but everybody seems to think that this is the main target on Athletic Director Craig Littlepage's list.

Don't believe me?

How about the Washington Post, the Richmond Times Dispatch, or the Daily Progress, among others?

In 2005, it was rumored that Tubby Smith was the No. 1 target and The Roanoke Times lead UVA beat writer Doug Doughty reported two years ago that an offer was in place before it may have been nixed by University President John Casteen.

Casteen basically seemed unwilling to justify a nearly $3 million annual salary for a basketball coach. 

Could he have really changed his tune four years later, in this economic downtime?

Will Littlepage get his first choice the second time around?


Tubby Smith may have grown accustomed to the freezing temperatures of a Minnesota winter, but his heart remains in Virginia. 

Smith has a great deal of family and friends in Virginia, and he even got his start in coaching as an assistant at Virginia Commonwealth University. 

Smith's wife is originally from the area and Minnesota fans know that UVA is one of the two or three schools where Smith might actually listen to all these alluring overtures.

It is an area Smith knows well and an area he certainly would be able to recruit with the best of them.

In fact, Smith is one of the few guys out there who could go toe-to-toe with Coach K and Roy Williams for some of the hotshot recruits of the Mid-Atlantic area.

While Minnesota is a major program with quite a bit of basketball history itself, Virginia simply has better facilities, with a $131 million arena, and still has enough money left to give Smith a major pay raise.

Minnesota will certainly try its best to match whatever offer Virginia puts forward, but it seems clear that if the Cavaliers are willing to put up numbers around $2.75 million to $3 million (the same numbers talked about in 2005), it might just be an offer Smith would be unable to refuse.

The Cavaliers have taken a strong stance by firing Leitao so quickly, particularly when you consider many thought he was going to get another year to turn things around. 

Sure, Virginia had its worst season in over three decades, but the team was extremely young and appeared to be making strides by winning three of its four conference games after Valentine's Day.

Leitao was the 2007 ACC Coach of the Year, for goodness sake.

In other words, the only reason Virginia would be willing to fire someone so abruptly proves that the Cavalier administration is serious about changing the apathetic culture surrounding the program. 

After all, many UVA beat writers, like Richmond's Jeff White, were being told just a few weeks ago that Leitao was safe and would be returning. 

That attitude quickly changed during the ACC Tournament when Virginia ended their season with a whimper as opposed to a bang against Boston College.

A poor performance? Sure, but not life-altering.  Virginia still had a great victory to end the regular season at Maryland. 

Was this really a case of "what have you done for me lately?"

Littlepage would not have acted so swiftly unless he received confirmation that if he made a change, certain people would be listening.

Virginia seems dedicated to making a splash and this time they will not let dollars and cents get in the way of a program-changing hire.

After all, Smith has won at least 20 games every year since 1992.

Virginia has gone to two NCAA Tournaments since 1998.

Still, the cupboard would not be bare.  Smith would inherit the ACC Rookie of the Year in Sylven Landesberg, former McDonald's All-America notable mention with Jeff Jones, and a dynamic front court player in Mike Scott.

Enough said.

The last thing Littlepage needs is another "almost" hire that leaves him at the altar.  It has become painfully clear that Leitao was a Plan B in 2005, and if Littlepage has to settle for another unproven mid-major coach, you better believe Littlepage might as well pack his bags along with Leitao.

He would be joining him in the unemployment line.

So, in honor of desperation, bring on Tubby!


Tubby Smith has a great thing going at Minnesota.  He is part of a power conference where he can quickly put his program near the top of the standings.

Sure, Tom Izzo has done a great job creating a dominant program at Michigan State, but it is not quite the same as Carolina or Duke. 

Smith had to deal with that kind of unrealistic pressure in Kentucky, and I doubt he'd be willing to jump back into that same fire.

Obviously, Virginia is not expecting a national championship coming out of the gate, but the ACC is simply a tougher hill to climb in general. 

Not to mention that finding the kind of student-athletes who can thrive at Virginia while holding off fellow competitors like Duke, UNC, Maryland, Kentucky, and Wake Forest (just to name a few) is a very difficult task.

Smith is one of the biggest names in the Big Ten.  In two years, he has completely turned the program around and still has some major building blocks in place that he would be leaving behind.

After all, why go to Virginia when you're already coaching the son of the legendary Cavalier himself, Mr. Ralph Sampson?

Virginia certainly has some attractive qualities for Smith.  It has a beautiful campus and arena, it has a great conference, and it has family ties, but Smith is a good man who realizes he still owes the Golden Gophers a few more years.

Sure, Smith bailed on Georgia after just two years to go to Kentucky, but the Cavaliers are not exactly at the same level as the Wildcats.

Expect Minnesota to fight hard for their coach and it might be just enough to keep the legendary Smith around.


Tubby Smith would be a legendary steal for the Virginia Cavaliers.  It would make them relevant on a national scale for the first time in a long time.

To have annual showdowns between Smith and Coach K would have ESPN pundits drooling.  It would be a huge boost in revenue after the slumping ticket sales in both basketball and football.  It could gain Virginia some of the big-name recruits who we've only dreamt of.

The high salary really could pay for itself if Smith just continues to do what he has always done.

There is no doubt that Littlepage will be contacting Minnesota whenever their season officially ends (most likely seconds afterward).

Will Smith listen?

I think he will.  Smith might need some time to decide because I do not think this is a simple decision.  If he does come, Smith has the opportunity to set the program in the right direction. 

He has probably reached the age where he will not be a long-term coach for the Cavaliers, but he could possibly groom an heir apparent and get Virginia heading toward heights only seen during the Sampson years.

It would be a dream come true for Virginia fans, and let's face it...most of this year has been a nightmare.  So, I won't hold my breath, I'll just keep my fingers crossed.


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