Can the Minnesota Gophers Afford To Lose Coach Tubby Smith?

Kevin LindseyAnalyst IMarch 31, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - MARCH 15:  Head coach Tubby Smith of the Minnesota Golden Gophers reacts against the Illinois Fighting Illini during their semifinal game on Day 3 of the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 15, 2008 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Illinois won 54-50. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Media sources are reporting that Oregon booster and Nike chairman, Phil Knight, wants Tubby Smith to become the next coach of the Ducks.   

Rumors are circulating that Knight will ensure that Smith is richly rewarded with a compensation package beyond what he is currently receiving from Minnesota.

Minnesota Gopher Nation appears to be split into two camps concerning the rumors of coach Tubby Smith going to Oregon.

Some Gopher fans would be happy to see coach Smith head west to pursue fame and fortune out west.  They feel that while Smith is a good coach he is not a great coach. 

The evidence for those who would not shed a tear if Smith leaves is the performance of the team this past season.  

At the beginning of the season, Minnesota was a team that most Gopher fans believed would easily receive a NCAA tournament bid and finish in the top half of the conference. 

The hype seemed justified as coach Smith had more returning players than any other Big Ten team and he had three potential impact players joining him.

Minnesota however struggled during the season.   

Early in the season, the Gophers lost to the undersized Portland Pilots, 61-56, at the Anaheim classic when the Pilots out rebounded the Gophers, 39-28. 

During the Big Ten season, the Gophers played with little emotion when away from the Barn and dropped three road games they should have won against Indiana, Northwestern and Michigan.

The loss to the Wolverines was especially embarrassing for the Gophers as they were blown out by Michigan by 28 points.  All five starters were benched during the second half of the game for several minutes because coach Smith was unhappy with their effort.

Minnesota, in close games throughout the season, could not generate any offense. 

In the last five minutes of games, the Gophers would stop moving in turn resulting in whoever had the ball in the last seconds of the shot clock having to go one-on-one to avoid the violation.

The lack of offensive firepower is a criticism that has followed Smith everywhere he has coached in college basketball. “Tubby Ball” emphasizes pressure defense and seeks to generate most of its offensive opportunities in transition or through pounding the offensive glass.

Most Kentucky basketball fans will vouch that “Tubby Ball” is not the most exciting basketball to watch.

While all of the above criticisms have some validity, retaining coach Smith would be more beneficial for the program.

Why would retaining coach Smith be more beneficial for Minnesota’s program?

Tubby wins, he recruits and his team appears to be prepared to win over the next couple of seasons.

Before Smith’s arrival in Minnesota, the Gophers had no history of success.  Coach Smith has begun to create a realistic expectation and tradition of winning at Minnesota.   

When you examine what coach Smith has done in his short time at Minnesota in light of the history of the program, his body of work can’t be summarily discounted.

In his first three seasons at Minnesota, coach Smith has led the Gophers to 20 or more wins.

In the past 30 years, Minnesota has never had two consecutive years in which they have won 20 or more games. 

If you allow Gopher fans to take into consideration the seasons which were vacated by the NCAA, Minnesota has had only twice had consecutive years in which they won 20 or more games.

Minnesota, even including vacated seasons, did not have three successive seasons in which they won 20 or more games in the past 30 years.

In the past two seasons, Coach Smith led Minnesota to the NCAA tournament.  In his first season, Minnesota played in the NIT tournament.

In the past 30 years, Minnesota has only twice played in the NCAA tournament in successive seasons and one of the two instances involved a vacated season.

Before Smith took over the head coaching duties, Minnesota was not able to effectively “close the borders” to the state and lost several prized recruits to other programs.

Coach Smith is viewed very favorably among high school coaches in the state and this year’s freshman class included Royce White and Rodney Williams who most believed were the top two recruits in Minnesota.

How well positioned are the Gophers for the future under Smith? 

Next year, Minnesota is poised to again win 20 or more games and make a deep run into the NCAA tournament.

The Gophers have a solid nucleus of players who averaged at least ten minutes of playing time in Devoe Joseph, Blake Hoffarber, Ralph Sampson III, Colton Iverson, Al Nolen, Paul Carter and Rodney Williams. 

Minnesota will hopefully be able to add bruiser Trevor Mbakwe to the front line and pick up some needed scoring from the wing with incoming freshman Austin Hollins.  If Cory Joseph, Devoe’s younger brother, signs with the Gophers—the team will have one of the best recruiting classes in the Big Ten.

The consistency that Minnesota fans have long sought should continue as Minnesota will only have three seniors on the roster next season and none of the underclassmen are likely to leave school early for the NBA.  

Coach Smith is not perfect. 

However, Minnesota can ill-afford losing him as he is building Minnesota into a consistent winning program. 

Of course, at the end of the day the decision to stay or go rests with coach Smith. 

If Tubby decides to take his ball and go west, Minnesota is going to have a big job on its hands finding a replacement for him. 


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