On Friday, Minnesota and UCLA met in their first NCAA Tournament game, with both coaches seemingly needing a win to keep their jobs. Ben Howland had underperformed at UCLA, and after losing Friday, was fired Saturday. Tubby Smith's squad, on the other hand, came to play, and beat down UCLA 83-63.
But apparently, he needed to do more. Smith was fired Monday, once again accused of underperforming at a school where he raised the bar.
At Kentucky, Tubby Smith won the NCAA Tournament in his first season. He would go to the Elite Eight three times with the Wildcats and make the NCAA Tournament every single year he coached in Lexington, never losing a first round game. But he was outed in 2007 (NOTE: nah, Tubby wasm't fired st UK, but there's no doubt he was criticized for ailing to perform on his way out the door, leading to hismdecision to go to Minnesota. Sorry for confusion and stuff). His successor, Billy Gillispie, went to one NCAA Tournament in his two years at the helm, Gillispie's successor, John Calipari, has received massive acclaim for his national championship and his recruiting prowess, but ended up losing in the first round of the NIT in his third year on the job. Despite having a higher bar for a worst season than either of the two guys to take the job after him, Smith was victimized for supposedly performing poorly at a place where he won a national title.
It's not altogether fair to say that Minnesota basketball hasn't had success. Under Clem Haskins, they made a Final Four, and made the NCAA Tournament four times in six seasons. Of course, that never happened: all those appearances were stripped as part of a massive academic scandal. Haskins was followed by Dan Monson, whose Gophers missed the NCAA Tournament six times in his seven years in charge, would never win a game there, and finished 10th in Big Ten play three times.
After one year under Jim Molinari -- 3-13 in conference -- Smith took over, and the team's bottom line for failure has gotten worse. With no huge scandal, Smith made the NCAA Tournament three times in six years. This year, he won a game there, the first time the team had done that since 1997, the first non-vacated win since 1990.
This is reason enough this is a bad firing. Forget the $2.5 million buyout, or the insane fact that Smith was just extended in July, a move that raised Smith's eventual buyout from $1.5 million to $2.5 million less than a year before that buyout would eventually be invoked. Forget that with their top two leading scorers returning in Austin Hollins and Andre Hollins, Smith's Gophers looked poised to be strong next year, even if they did lose All-Big Ten first-teamer Trevor Mbakwe. Smith was successful at Minnesota by the standards of the program's past, and there was no reason to suspect he wouldn't continue to be.
But alas, Norwood Teague, the athletic director hired in June, thinks his team can do better. That's nice! That's optimistic, and optimism is good. And after hiring Shaka Smart at VCU, Teague supposedly has a knack for finding up-and-coming coaches.
He'd better hope that knack strikes again. He's going to have to sell incoming coaches on coming to Minnesota, shortly after firing a guy who went dancing half of the seasons he was there, and showing that money is not an issue while doing so. The list of candidates who will want to move to the Twin Cities to take a job demanding unprecedented success with little promise of job security will be slim, especially when one factors in the fact that other jobs (that other school who already fired their coach this offseason, UCLA) will be available. Perhaps Teague thinks he can wrangle in Smart. That would certainly be a coup, but they'll need to outspend other schools shortly after spending $2.5 million on axing a guy who was doing a perfectly good job.
Nobody will have any qualms with Teague if he can land Smart. Best of luck to him in that endeavor.
There's at least one candidate who won't be coaching for the Gophers next year: Tubby Smith. After doing better than other coaches at each of his last two gigs, only to be given a pink slip, let's hope America's best coach named after a bathroom fixture finds a school that appreciates him.