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November 25, 2013

Pitt will take on Tubby

Tubby Smith didn't have to take the Texas Tech job.

Smith is 63 years old, has accomplished more than 98 or 99% of his peers in college coaching and - little secret here - Minnesota is paying him through 2016.

Minnesota fired Smith after last season. That thing tends to happen when you have a new AD who didn't hire you. Norwood Teague once hired Shaka Smart at VCU. After pursuing a few different candidates, Teague settled on an unproven Richard Pitino to replace Smith. Pitino's first year in a Big Six coaching job will be his second year as a head coach.

It had to be a tough situation for Smith to handle.

After all, here's a coach that's been to the mountaintop, winning a national title in 1998 at Kentucky. A coach that's also coached his teams to four Elite 8's and six Sweet 16's. The guy rebuilt Tulsa and started the Golden Hurricanes on an unprecedented run of success. He even won at Georgia in a way they still haven't been able to duplicate since he left. And he finally got tired of the Kentucky fans pining for Rick Pitino (who Smith replaced) and left for Minnesota. Only to be replaced seven years later by Pitino's son!

And truth be told, if a recruit named Royce White had kept it together while enrolled at Minnesota for a brief time, I'd venture to guess Tubby Smith would still be employed by the Golden Gophers - and they'd probably be thinking about naming the court after him.

Still, in six years on the job, Smith's Gophers appeared in 3 NCAA Tournaments and 2 NIT's. But it wasn't good enough, and he was sent packing.

So Tubby Smith, winner of 511 basketball games as a head basketball coach, had some time on his hands. Some thinking to do.

Then the phone rang.

He was unemployed for about ten seconds. Smith didn't have to take the Texas Tech job, but he did. For a few reasons.

Smith saw the chance for a quicker turnaround than most did when looking into the Red Raider job.

He saw a team that returned four starters in addition to a sixth man that led them in scoring last season (the athletic Jaye Crockett, a 6'7" slasher, who now starts for Smith's 4-1 squad and averages 12.8 and 6.4 rebounds per game).

He saw a team that had endured four coaches in four years. A team with athletes who can protect the rim and score inside. Jordan Tolbert is a clone of Crockett, 6'7 and athletic, Tolbert blocks better than a shot a game, while putting up 15 and 8 per night. And maybe, just maybe, Smith saw a chance for redemption.

But the main reason Smith took the job?

He saw a team of kids that desperately needed a coach, that needed the right coach.

And that's what Tubby Smith's been for the last 22 years:

A damn good coach - the right kind of coach.

Pitt will most likely beat Texas Tech tomorrow night in Brooklyn. The Panthers have, on the whole, better basketball players. Pitt rebounds the ball much better than the Red Raiders. The Panthers also shoot the three-ball better.

But if the game's close late, Smith's players will be secure in one fact: That their coach will put them in a great position to win if they execute, just like Pitt's acclaimed coach.

And after what the Tech players have been through the last few years - the Billy Gillespie situation specifically - that's got to be a great feeling.




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