I have been saying this from the start in regards to Missouri’s basketball coaching search. Of the names being floated around, Shaka Smart is the third-worst hire they could make.
Before I start talking about Smart, the only potential candidates that fans and media members have been floating around that would be any worse than Smart would be Steve Alford from New Mexico or Bruce Pearl, who was fired from Tennessee for NCAA violations.
Missouri supposedly flirted with Alford back in 2006 when they were looking for a replacement for Quin Snyder. Hiring him in 2011 would be just as disastrous as it would have been in 2006.
Unlike Anderson, who I can say from personal experience is a class act and a true gentleman, Alford is a jerk. Fans look at his solid tenures at Iowa and New Mexico and assume that he is a good coach, completely overlooking his off-the-court antics.
I will be honest, I did not realize Alford had such troubles off the court until “The Colonel” Gabe DeArmond of PowerMizzou and InsideSTL brought it up on The ITD Morning After last week. After hearing Gabe mention Alford’s legal problems towards the end of his tenure at Iowa, I did some research.
In an article posted on Bleacher Report in 2007, Trey Bradley mentions the disconnect between Alford and the Iowa fans.
“More damning for Alford, however, was the fact that he never ingratiated himself with the Iowa fan base. Alford's detractors cited his hair more often than his record as a reason to dislike him.”
Missouri basketball under Mike Anderson has finally begun to reconnect with the fans. There is definitely room for improvement, but those five years under Anderson were a huge step in the right direction.
Hiring a coach like Alford, who alienated Hawkeye fans to the point that they actually boycotted games, would completely erase the progress made by Anderson.
Alford also lost support from the fans and the respect of a lot of people when he publicly supported Pierre Pierce after he was arrested and accused of sexual assault in 2002.
Some fans may argue that Missouri’s football coach Gary Pinkel did the same thing when Derrick Washington faced assault charges last fall. However, Pinkel never came out in public support of Washington. He simply refused to comment on the matter.
Anderson made a name for himself by recruiting upstanding players and running a tight ship when it came to discipline.
Missouri’s basketball program cannot afford to suffer any setbacks in terms of players running into problems off the court and a coach who allows such antics to go on.
The second worst hire for Missouri would be Bruce Pearl. Thankfully, the buzz around him from the Missouri fan base has died down. According to Dave Matter of the Columbia Tribune, there is a chance that Pearl will be banned from coaching at the D-I level, so I will not waste a lot of time on him.
Pearl is a clown. His antics at Tennessee not only drew the wrath of the NCAA, but also lost him his job. Does Missouri really want to take on another candidate who will be viewed by many as another Quin Snyder-esque coach due to his off-the-court infractions? I would hope not.
Any special advantages he brings to Missouri with his coaching ability cannot offset his previous misdeeds and the baggage that will undoubtedly follow him no matter where he goes.
That brings me to Shaka Smart. With his recent five-game win streak to reach the Final Four, Smart has become the “flavor of the month.”
I do not want to take anything away from VCU’s tournament run. It was spectacular. Watching him run over Kansas in the Elite 8 brought a tear to my eye as a Missouri fan.
As soon as I welled up with joy as he ran-up-and-down those wretched Jayhawks, I felt like vomiting as I read the flow of tweets from Tiger fans calling for him to be hired as the next head coach at Missouri.
Shaka Smart may very well be the next Brad Stevens. That’s fine. But he has done absolutely nothing in his head-coaching career to warrant a $2 million contract or a job with a program like Missouri.
If not for a Virginia Commonwealth team catching fire just as it sneaks into the NCAA tournament, then no one knows who Shaka Smart is.
In Smart’s two seasons as head coach, VCU has finished in fifth and fourth place in the Colonial Athletic Association. His records in those two seasons have been good, but it is not like he is playing in a power conference.
Smart has done nothing in his coaching career to suggest he has the ability to be successful in one of the most difficult conferences in the country. Obviously, Missouri fans are going to get excited by a coach that beat KU in the NCAA tournament.
However, Smart has beaten Kansas just as many times as Mike Anderson did, and everyone saw how the rest of those MU/KU match-ups went.
Missouri’s basketball program has reached a level that it does not have to settle for a coach like Smart who is only being talked about because he went on a run in the NCAA tournament.
For as undeserving I believe Anderson was of a $2 million-plus contract, Smart deserves it even less.
Some may try to compare Smart to Butler’s Brad Stevens, who has gained a lot of national attention lately because of his team’s NCAA tournament success.
However, Stevens has reached the NCAA tournament in each of his four seasons as Butler’s head coach and has won both the Horizon League regular season and conference tournament titles in three of those four years.
Along with Smart’s unproven track record as an NCAA head coach, his style of play will not set Missouri up for long-term success.
Smart utilizes a system that he describes as “havoc.” It utilizes full-court presses on defense and an up-tempo, score-in-transition offense.
“You’ve got those gnats that won’t leave you alone during the summer. That’s how we are on the court,” senior Jamie Skeen said in an interview with the Washington Post. “It frustrates teams…We want to nag you. Get you nervous. Maybe get you a little careless with the ball.”
That “havoc” system sounds an awful lot like Mike Anderson’s “Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball.”
The up-tempo style used by both Anderson and Smart are easy to shut down. On defense, you simply have to force them into a half-court offense.
It happened to Mizzou this past season on numerous occasions, and it happened to VCU throughout their Final Four matchup against Butler.
For whatever reason, when you force those teams into playing at a slower pace, they are the ones getting careless with the ball and chucking up bad shots.
Should the shooters go cold from three-point land, rebounding becomes a serious issue. Those fast-paced strategies alienate the big men because there are few recruits out there who are big enough to dominate the boards and keep up with the frenetic pace.
Missouri came close with Ricardo Ratliffe, Steve Moore and Lawrence Bowers, but none of those players are true “big men” and other teams had no problem drawing fouls against them, forcing Anderson to bench them for long periods during the game.
Having big men who can bang bodies down low and pull down rebounds is key to being successful over the long haul in the NCAA. This will only be magnified next season with the newly strengthened Big 12.
For argument's sake, let’s say Alden hires Smart and he brings in a few top of the line recruits in his first season as head coach.
This is not hard to believe, based on the fact that players are going to want to play for one of the biggest names in college basketball history.
If Smart has success in his first few seasons at Missouri and actually pans out as a legitimate NCAA coach, other teams are going to be banging down his door.
I could see him pulling a Mike Anderson and jumping ship within five years of taking the Missouri head-coaching job.
Either way, Missouri loses. If Smart comes in and turns out to be just another flash in the pan, then Alden will be forced to fire him and MU will be in a deeper hole than it is in now.
If Smart should prove to be one of the top coaches in the NCAA, he will either milk more money from Mizzou or jump ship for another program.
If Mike Alden truly wants Missouri to become a “destination” for coaches and not just a stepping-stone for other programs, he would be best off signing a coach with a proven track record, not just the young guy who won a few NCAA tournament games.
I want to conclude with my picks for the Missouri head-coaching job. You can check out the full list of potential candidates here.
Home-Run Hire: Brad Stevens-Butler
Obviously, not going to happen, but if it did, the buzz around Missouri's basketball program would reach an all-time high.
Riskiest Hire: Shaka Smart-VCU
Unproven, system not built for long-term success, Smart would not be a wise hire by Mike Alden.
Safest Hire: Mick Cronin-Cincinnati
Consistently improved over his tenure as head coach at Cincy. Win total has been on the rise despite playing in the Big East, one of the toughest conferences in the nation. Unfortunately, chances are slim that Cronin leaves.
Wildcard: Russell Springman-Texas Assistant Coach
Was the lead recruiter when Texas landed Kevin Durant. He's going to be hired by an NCAA team in the near future. Definitely worth at least a look if you're Missouri.
Coach Mizzou Missed Out On: Cuonzo Martin-Tennessee
The East St. Louis-native was successful at Missouri State and would have immediately sealed the borders and drawn back a lot of the Missouri fans living in St. Louis. Have to believe he would have waited for Missouri if they at least expressed interest in him before he left for Tennessee.
Who will they hire: Unfortunately, I think they will sign Smart. His recent success will likely prove to be too much for Alden to resist.
I would be disappointed if MU spent $2 million to acquire an unproven coach, especially when there are more proven coaches available.