After the loss to Michigan on Saturday, the first thought that popped into my head is that’s the type of loss that could make a head coach want to look elsewhere. A loss where a team had no issues breaking your vaunted press (Havoc) and made it look too easy. A loss that showed how far a program has come in the last decade, but how far it still has to go. A loss that would make a coach think “Well, I gave it my best shot but I’m not going to win a Championship at this university.” Fortunately for Virginia Commonwealth University, Shaka Smart is a different breed of head coach.
Ever since his 2011 team made it from the First Four to the Final Four, VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart has been in high demand. Universities looking to fill a vacancy have tried to lure him away like N.C. State in 2011 and Illinois in 2012. Both tried, but were unsuccessful in their attempts to offer Smart a significant pay raise. Now, after the loss on Saturday to Michigan we are now in the “Who will try to hire Shaka Smart away from VCU” game yet again. The participants (so far) this year are Minnesota and UCLA.
Minnesota is intriguing because of the connection between former VCU Athletic Director Norwood Teague and Smart. Teague, who is the current A.D. for Minnesota hired Smart and gave him his first head coaching job in 2009 at VCU. Also, Teague just fired head coach Tubby Smith. In his six seasons as Minnesota’s head coach Smith went 124-81 and won 20 games five of the six seasons. He took the Gophers to the NCAA tournament three times and to the title game of the NIT once. The win Friday vs UCLA in the 2nd round was the program’s first since the 1997 tournament.
UCLA has the most national championships (11) of any program in the history of college basketball. The legendary John Wooden won 10 of those Championships from 1964-75 and the other in 1995 by Jim Harrick. Ben Howland, recently fired as head coach at UCLA with a career 230-105 record over ten seasons as UCLA lead the Bruins to three consecutive Final Fours (2006-08) including a championship game loss in 2006. UCLA is a top ten (many will argue top five) program in the history of college basketball. The Bruins can offer a nicer location, more money, better recruits/recruiting budget and more.
However, Shaka Smart is a humble coach that doesn’t believe that the grass is always greener on the other side. He knows what he has at VCU. A fan base that loves its Havoc, as evidenced by the current 35 game consecutive sellout streak at the Siegel Center. His wife, Maya Smart, loves the Richmond, VA community and what may be the most important factor, Shaka loves VCU. Ram fans realize that he is building something special here in Richmond and are “all in” for the journey, not the destination. If Smart goes to a bigger school, anything less than a national championship and some of those fans may consider him a failure. Which begs a couple of questions I have for any college coach;
(1) Do you want to make more money at a bigger school with less job security or would you rather have great job security while making pretty good money at a smaller school? A couple examples of the first part of that question are Jeff Capel and Anthony Grant. Both are former VCU head coaches that went on to higher paying jobs but haven’t been quite as successful. Capel was fired in 2011 after five seasons as head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners. Grant is in his 4th year at Alabama and has seen minimal success.
(2)Why be the next coach attempting to rebuild a program’s legacy when you can build your own? In other words, why be the next John Wooden or Bob Knight when you can become the first Shaka Smart or Brad Stevens.
With all that being said, I believe Shaka Smart stays at VCU . There are rumors going around now that Smart and VCU are working to restructure his contract. Every time a university has come calling, VCU has worked with Smart to ensure he stays put. That is tremendous job security and when a community loves a coach and his family as much as VCU loves the Smarts, well, that’s just icing on the cake.