Sunday, March 25, 2007

Feeling the Pain 

Many of my personal friends and co-workers know that I follow The Cincinnati Reds (baseball) and Kentucky Wildcats (college basketball) with any kind of intensity and passion. When news came out that Tubby Smith had left to coach at the University of Minnesota, I thought the sudden nature of the news meant that the decision was made in haste. But according to this report by Andy Katz, Tubby had been seriously looking to leave town for at least six weeks. While some wanted him fired after a disappointing couple of seasons, I thought that he should have been allowed to stay on for another year or two if he was willing to make significant changes to the way thing operated. If he wasn't willing to change, then he should have gotten the axe. With Smith's departure to Minnesota, all of that is moot.

My favorite sports talk guy, Lance McAllister, had what I felt were spot on comments concerning the move:
The more I think it was time for this to happen in Lexington......for both sides.
I believe 99% of fans liked Tubby the person....how could you not?....he was kind, charitable, a good person...a person any parent would want coaching their son. Yet as a coach, Tubby had flaws. Flaws you even accept at "most" schools. But it's not a news flash that UK is not "most" schools. UK is an "elite" school. UK is UK because of the passion and expectations for the program. Passion fills seats, passion builds 30-million dollar practice facilities, passion allows a school to pay it's coach 2+ million dollars a year.
UK is not Butler, it's not Gonzaga, it's not Texas. The goal of elite programs is to chase and win a national title every year....is that fair? No. But that comes with the territory.
"Most" schools and their fan base would do back flips to win 76% of their games, average 26 wins a year, make the tourney all 10 years with a coach, and make four elite 8's in ten years. But failing to make the Sweet 16 in back to back seasons showed UK was trending the other way. Sure they were 'this close" to going to the Final Four three years ago. But "close" isn't for elite programs. Close is for programs that accept less than the best. Close is for the Bengals fan who are happy that 8-8 is better than 2-14.
Does anyone believe the situation in Lexington was getting better or was going to get better with Tubby? This became a classic case of it "being time".......the program was settling in/leveling off/getting stale....with danger ahead without a jolt.
Remember, Tubby was not fired. Tubby resigned. I'll assume Mitch Barnhart asked Tubby to replace at least some of his staff. I'll assume Tubby wasn't going to do that. UK demanded change. Tubby thought status quo was good.
When everyone on the outside has realized for years that a staff change had to happen, and the coach didn't, there is a problem. If Tubby keeps his staff intact at Minnesota, he will continue to have problems. Tubby leaving doesn't mean he'd rather coach a 9-22 program, and it's not a "take this job and shove it." It's an admission he can't do the job at UK and can't handled expectations and pressure of being the best.
Have UK fans damaged the program with their demands? (You will always have the small percentage of whack jobs at any school) I'd argue fans expecting less would damage what UK is about.
I wish Tubby nothing but the best. He goes to a place where the expectations and the bar are much lower. That bar isn't touched at UK. It stays at the top.
Has the landscape of college basketball changed? Yes. Can you win a title every year? No way, no how. But does that mean UK should lower their expectations? No. That's what separates the good programs from the "elite" programs.
Coaches who don't understand/accept that, need not apply.

Two last items:
1. Hats off to Minnesota for landing a capable coach, good guy who did things "the right way". Landing Tubby will be a huge step forward for the Golden Gophers.
2. Memo to all of the Cincinnati fans out there. I will soon feel the pain that you all have had to endure this year. Mick Cronin is a very capable basketball coach and recruiter and did the best he could with what he had, but the results still sucked for you. I have a strong feeling that I'm going to be in a similar position this coming year. I have little doubt that my beloved Wildcats will be back on top of the college hoops world, but it's going to be a slow, sometimes painful process to get there.

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