The Gophers coach is on his way out one day after losing to Florida in the NCAA tournament.
By BRIAN HALL FS North
MINNEAPOLIS — Winning the school's first NCAA tournament game in 16 seasons wasn't enough to save University of
Minnesota men's basketball coach Tubby Smith's job.
Minnesota announced Monday it has relieved Smith of his coaching duties after six seasons leading the Gophers. Smith was ultimately undone after a wildly inconsistent season that saw Minnesota ranked No. 8 in the country at one point with wins against the likes of Michigan State and
Indiana, which was ranked No. 1 at the time. But the Gophers ended the regular season with 10 losses in their final 15 games, including road losses at Nebraska and Purdue.
The inconsistency remained with No. 11 seed Minnesota beating No. 6 seed UCLA 83-63 in the NCAA tournament on Friday, followed by a 78-64 loss to No. 3 seed Florida on Sunday in which the Gophers were only competitive for a stretch early in the second half. Smith, most known for winning a national title in his first season at Kentucky, finished with a 124-81 record in Minnesota, including a 46-62 mark in Big Ten play.
Smith guided the Gophers to the NCAA tournament in three of his six seasons, but never fulfilled the promise many expected when he was hired away from Kentucky in 2007.
"I feel it's time for a fresh approach for our basketball program, for our student-athletes and the program, in general," athletic director Norwood Teague said Monday. "We felt now, following a season where there were high expectations for this coaching staff, that it was time to make a change for the benefit of our student-athletes and as we build for the future."
Even a trip to the Sweet 16 might not have been enough to save Smith's job. Teague said the decision was based on the "overall body of work." Once Teague consulted with school president, Eric Kaler, the decision was made quickly to move on. But Teague said those discussions didn't come Monday following Minnesota's loss in the NCAA tournament a day earlier.
"It's really a future decision," Teague said. "I didn't evaluate the NCAA tournament only. I didn't evaluate really just this year only. It's more of a matter of evaluating where we are and where we're going. I want to build for the future and know that, that's a huge part of what went into play here."
Teague said the school won't hire a search firm and he will lead the search along with his senior staff and the school's president's office.
To part ways with Smith, Minnesota made the financial commitment in having to pay a $2.5 million buyout that was negotiated into a contract extension that Smith signed last July that was to keep him with the team through the 2016-17 season. Making the buyout more of an issue is the university is still paying buyouts for former basketball coach Dan Monson and former football coach Tim Brewster.
"Anytime you spend money for buyouts it bothers me, just like it would bother citizens of Minnesota," Teague said. "But I hope that our fans will look at this one as an investment, rather than an expenditure. I don't take that lightly. It's a good question and I think we have to consider that when we make these decisions."
Smith came to Minnesota with a standout reputation from Kentucky after the Gophers had decided to move on from Monson, who made the NCAA tournament just once in parts of eight seasons in Minnesota. Smith still had the big-time name recognition from his tenure with the Wildcats, based mainly on winning the national title in his first year after replacing Rick Pitino, with a team built mainly by Pitino.
Still, for the reeling Gophers, Smith's hire was lauded locally and expected to help Minnesota return to prominence in the Big Ten. Yet, in his six seasons with the Gophers, Smith never led the team to a winning record in conference play and was without an NCAA win until this season. Minnesota started this season 15-1 and was ranked No. 8 in the county with a team that contains possible NBA prospects Trevor Mbakwe, Andre Hollins and
Rodney Williams. They finished 8-10 in the Big Ten and lost to
Illinois in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.
The rumors of Smith's declining support gained steam, especially after Teague was named the new athletic director almost a year ago.
"I want to thank the University of Minnesota and the people of Minnesota for giving me the opportunity to lead the Golden Gopher basketball program for six years," Smith said in a release by the school. "Our staff did things the right way and will leave knowing that the program is in far better shape than when we arrived. The people of the State of Minnesota embraced Donna and me from the beginning and we will always be grateful."
Teague said he met with Smith Monday afternoon. The rest of Smith's coaching staff was also let go.
"I tell you what, he was very gracious," Teague said. "I could see the disappointment in his eyes and that's hard to tell Tubby. He's a great human being. I don't think he was totally surprised, but he was very gracious and that did not surprise me because of the way he conducts himself and the person that he is."