Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith has been identified in the past two weeks as a candidate for the openings at the University of Oregon and Auburn University. Coach Smith has vehemently denied that he is a candidate for either job but the rumors persist that he is leaving Minnesota.
The most persistent rumor is that Smith is headed back south to the Southeastern Conference to coach Auburn. John Shultz of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Phillip Marshall of Auburn Undercover, Charles Goldberg of the Birmingham News, John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader, and Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports have all reported that sources at Auburn are ready to hire or are considering hiring Smith.
When major college coaches leave a program, rarely do they make their intentions known beforehand. Typically, there a few rumors . . . and then there is a press conference with the coach putting on the new hat of his new employer.
While all of the daily sports radio talk stations in the Twin Cities are quick to point out that Smith has given no indication that he is interested in leaving, none of the radio stations have completely ruled out the idea that Smith will be gone from the Twin Cities for the warmer climate of Alabama.
Which begs the question in Minnesota: Is this just smoke or is Tubby Smith leaving the Minnesota Gophers?
When one examines the benefits of staying at Minnesota against the potential upside of going to Auburn, Gopher fans who appreciate Coach Smith have to feel pretty confident that this story has more smoke than fire.
Minnesota currently pays Coach Smith $1.8 million a year with an escalator clause in his contract, which will pay him $2.0 million in 2012. Could Auburn match what Smith is being paid?
Probably. However, former Auburn coach Jeff Lebo was paid only $750,000 last year. Minnesota athletics director Joel Maturi has said he can’t afford to pay a higher salary to keep Smith from leaving as a university-wide salary freeze is in place.
One in the hand is better than two in the bush, slight advantage Minnesota.
Minnesota plays in one of the best stadiums for college basketball. Yes, the Barn has some poor sight lines if you are unfortunate enough to purchase a ticket behind a pole, but the Barn has an intimate college basketball feel that is second to none.
Auburn is scheduled to christen Auburn Arena this summer. The Auburn Arena at a price tag of $90 million will not only be a great new arena to play in but also contains practice facilities for both the men’s and women’s program.
The only downside for Coach Smith in Minnesota is that the Gophers lack their own practice facility. While committed to the idea, Maturi is unable to say when the Gophers will have their very own practice facility.
A slight advantage for Auburn because they will be able to practice in their very own practice facility beginning next year.
Smith is a coach that does not appear to be content to get to the NCAA tournament but wants be a Final Four contender on a regular basis. Which team is best suited to give Smith an opportunity to win a NCAA Championship?
In each of the past three years, Minnesota has won at least 20 games. The Gophers have made the NCAA tournament twice in the last three years.
In the last three years, Auburn has won 20 games only once. In the last three seasons, the Tigers won 20 games only once, and when they did they were only able to make it to the NIT tournament.
Minnesota went 21-14 this year and made the NCAA tournament where they lost to Xavier in the first round. Auburn finished 15-17 and was bounced in the first round of the SEC tournament.
The recent appearances in the NCAA tournament favor Minnesota.
Coach Smith plays an up tempo style of basketball using a deep bench.
Minnesota returns six players next year who averaged more than 15 minutes of playing time–Blake Hoffarber, Paul Carter Devoe Joseph, Ralph Sampson III, Al Nolen, and Colton Iverson. Hoffarber, Joseph, Sampson, and Nolen started an appreciable number of games during the year; Carter and Iverson picked up occasional starts during the year.
Auburn player Frankie Sullivan is the only player to average more than 15 minutes of playing time. Sullivan started an appreciable number of games during the year.
The players returning next year for Minnesota averaged a total of 56.7 points a game, while Auburn's returning players average a total of 27.7 points a game.
Players returning ready and able to contribute to make an NCAA tournament run favors Minnesota.
While Smith could ultimately decide that he is tired of the snow and cold in Minnesota, most observers who objectively look at the two programs would be surprised if he leaves for Auburn.
Now, if next year Minnesota loses two players because of allegations of criminal conduct and another player to academic problems, then Coach Smith might reconsider his long term prospects in the Twin Cities and then the smoke may become fire.