In Tubby Smith’s final year as head coach, the Gophers men’s basketball team earned its first (official) NCAA Tournament victory since 1990, as well as their first victory over a No. 1 ranked team since 1989.
It didn’t matter to first-year athletics director Norwood Teague, who ousted the coach after six years with the program.
In what has seemed like a lackluster beginning to Teague’s time at Minnesota, the Virginia Commonwealth transplant made his first big move. And it was big.
Many national media’s first, kneejerk reactions were to bash Minnesota – like ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, who said “who do they think they are?” in the first episode of Pardon the Interruption after Smith’s firing.
But if Teague and his assistants Mike Ellis and David Benedict know anything – it’s basketball.
The Gophers trio have connections and they’ve made it very clear that they are looking for the next big thing in college basketball, not the popular name.
Sure, current VCU coach Shaka Smart would be nice, so would former Gopher and NBA coach Flip Saunders. But it’s crucial to remember that Teague hired Smart to VCU after a one-year stint as an assistant coach at Florida.
Smart wasn’t a big name when hired, and I’d venture to guess that the new Gophers coach won’t be, either.
Through Ellis’ “Villa 7” program, a system that brings together athletic directors with elite assistant coaches, Teague and the Gophers have a wealth of talent to choose from.
Teague’s move to fire Smith was gutsy and correct. He isn’t ready to settle for mediocrity, like many Smith supporters were. Teague didn’t look at Smith’s resume, which includes a national championship. He looked at what Smith had done at Minnesota – which is one NCAA Tournament win in six years.
Sure, three trips to the Big Dance in six years is great considering Minnesota’s history. But Teague isn’t here to repeat history, he’s here to make sure the future of Gophers basketball is better than anything it ever was.
The only gaff in all this was that social media and the public knew of Smith’s firing before Smith knew. On Monday, during a 10 a.m. meeting with his staff, Smith began hearing he was going to be fired. It wasn’t until a 1 p.m. meeting with administration that Smith received the final verdict.
Teague said during Monday’s press conference that “everything leaks, we know that.” But if Teague knew that, then tell Smith after the loss to Florida that he was fired. Teague knew then that he would do it, so why not let the 61-year-old know he would be let go?
Regardless, Teague gets an A- for the firing of Smith. The basketball guru knows what he’s doing and even if you don’t recognize the name of the new coach – have no fear, the guy could turn out to be a bigger name than Tubby Smith one day.