The Gophers’ win over No. 1 Indiana on Tuesday will (at least) temporarily suspend Gopher Nation from lunging at the “Fire Tubby” button that had become larger and larger in recent weeks.
In six seasons, Smith has been mediocre with the Gophers after coming from a program where he raised a championship banner in Kentucky. He has yet to finish above .500 in the Big Ten Conference.
The reasoning for a coaching change after the season would be the dismal end to a strong campaign in 2012-13. But despite the hot start, a coaching change seems inevitable, unless Minnesota makes a nice run in the NCAA Tournament.
But who could fill Smith’s place at the helm?
The discussion of a head coach replacement has often started with Shaka Smart. Smart has been the head coach at Virginia Commonwealth since 2009 and was originally hired by current-Minnesota Athletic Director Norwood Teague. The connection between Smart and Teague is the main reasoning for a hopeful hire.
There is no doubt that Smart is a good college basketball coach. With the success he has had during his tenure, VCU has made a conference jump to the stronger Atlantic 10.
Smart has a Final Four under his belt from 2011 and is from the upper Midwest. At age 35, Smart seems prime to make a jump to a major conference.
If Teague could swindle Smart to the Twin Cities, the name ‘Tubby’ would be buried and forgotten pretty quickly.
Along with Teague on the list is another former VCU and current Alabama coach, Anthony Grant.
Grant has been successful this season. At 18-8, Grant should lead the Crimson Tide to the NCAA tournament for the second straight season. He served 10 seasons as an assistant to Billy Donovan at Florida and is also from the Florida area. Yet, his former relationship with Teague at VCU could convince Grant to come to the frozen tundra of Minnesota.
Grant is another proven winner with a 151-71 career record and is an improvement over the current coaching staff.
Flip Saunders went to the University of Minnesota and coached the Minnesota Timberwolves for 10 seasons.
He is familiar to the area and is a big-name coach that could take the Gophers coaching vacancy. His coaching experience in the NBA would be enticing to recruits, and he is often seen at Gopher basketball games.
Saunders could come back to take the top Gophers basketball job after serving as an assistant coach in 1981.
A youthful coach might be what Teague needs to refresh the basketball culture for the Gophers and Josh Pastner could be the answer.
While it is unsure if Pastner is ready to make the leap from Memphis, an invitation to the Big Ten could convince the 35-year-old coach. However, there is a possible roadblock with the Tigers heading to the Big East in the near future.
The Tigers coach has been there since 2009 and is known as a tireless recruiter. Recruiting is something that has lacked at Minnesota. His undefeated Conference USA record is also impressive, and he will likely lead his Memphis Tigers to a third-straight NCAA tournament.
One name that surfaced as a candidate last season was Tim Miles, the current coach of Nebraska.
It is rare to see a coach jump teams within the same conference, but it would not be a complete shock since Miles is familiar with Minnesota and is from South Dakota.
He coached Southwest Minnesota State and North Dakota State before heading to Colorado State.
At Nebraska, Miles does not have a ton of talent to utilize and is starting from scratch. He could take the leap to a more stable job with the Gophers.
Randy Bennett and Keith Dambrot:
Randy Bennett and Keith Dambrot are two coaches that should continue to get opportunities to move up the ladder in the coaching world. Neither coach has any experience at a big name university, but both have been successful.
Bennett, the current coach at St. Mary’s, has been to the NCAA tournament four times.
Dambrot is an interesting candidate because he has been successful with Akron in the Mid-American Conference. He is from the Midwest and has stayed around Big Ten country most of his coaching career.
Although both coaches are proven winners, they are not the big hires that Teague would need to force Smith out of Minnesota.
Steve Alford is a familiar name in the Big Ten. Alford played at Indiana in the 1980s. He was later the head coach at Iowa for eight seasons. He took the Hawkeyes to three NCAA tournaments before he resigned to take the head coaching job at New Mexico.
Alford is currently sitting comfortably at New Mexico, but success can only be so fulfilling in the Mountain West Conference.