Former U of M coach Tubby Smith was not fired last week but weeks earlier by the information bubble-blowing media. One knuckleheaded bubble-blower said on local sports radio a few weeks earlier that the only active Black coach to win a national championship “had no credibility.”
“We live in a state where we’re used to inconsistency and a lot of fair-weather fans,” notes former KFAN host Henry Lake. “They went all in emotionally when the Gophers got ranked eighth in the country, and when they started to struggle the fans got bitter… Also factor in the media pressure from certain individuals in town that built the momentum up and ramp it up for changes to be made.”
“I think [Smith] did a masterful job rebuilding a dead program in Minnesota,” says Washington, D.C. radio talk host Mark Gray.
Gophers AD Norwood Teague, during his March 25 press conference following the announcement earlier that day of Smith’s firing after six seasons, claimed, “We made this decision based on an evaluation of the overall body of work.”
Then let’s look at Smith’s “body of work” and compare it to his three predecessors after their six years at Minnesota:
Tubby Smith (2007-12): 124-81
Jim Dutcher (1975-81): 108-61
Clem Haskins (1986-92): 89-90
Dan Monson (1999-2004): 100-86
Unfortunately, too many locals got Gopher-giddy when the team’s No. 8 ranking in early January ultimately didn’t mean Bo Diddly. “I think they overachieved,” said Gray on U of M’s 15-1, 3-0 conference start.
Let’s be Jack Nicholson and tell some truths that some locals can’t or won’t handle. There have been just one or two impressive runs in each decade of my Gopher basketball coverage:
The 1980s — One Big Ten title (1982), two NIT appearances (1981, 1983), one NCAA berth (1989).
The 1990s — One Big Ten title (1997), one Elite Eight (1990), one Final Four finish (1997) and two NIT titles (1993, 1998), one conference tourney semifinalist (1998) and five NCAA appearances (1990, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1999)
The 2000s — Four NIT appearances (2001, 2002, 2003, 2006), one NIT final four (2003), one NCAA appearance (2005)
This decade — Two NCAA appearances (2010, 2013), one NIT runners-up (2012) and one league tourney finals (2010)
Only in the provincial minds of Land of Lakers are the Gophers a “top” program. Whenever people learn I live in Minnesota, the first thing that usually comes out of their mouths is “too cold,” and if they’re Black, “too cold and too White.” Prior to my relocating here, those were my initial thoughts as well.
But rarely am I asked about Gopher hoops.
Minnesota “doesn’t jump into your mind as [do] some of the other teams in the Big Ten,” says BlackSportsOnline’s Robert Littal. “They have to be more than ‘every once in a while they’re good.’”
“We’re not elite, but I think there is a conscious effort to change that perception,” states longtime Gopher season-ticket holder Archie Givens.
“Minnesota is an afterthought when it comes to college basketball,” believes Gray. “It’s really about players. Heavyweight programs have McDonald’s All-Americans, and Minnesota [doesn’t].”
“Sometimes we forget about the amazing positives here,” brags Teague: “Only Division I school in the state, in the Big Ten, passionate following, amazing old — not old, historic — arena, and we have got a lot of great things to sell. [Other programs] have their things, but we have Minnesota to sell, and that’s a great thing.”
On the other hand: “I’m not disrespecting the program,” says Gray, “but when it comes to playing basketball and spending four years there, and you are trying to recruit me out of my comfort zone…Minnesota is just a hard sell.”
The fact that Smith got 21 wins out of a squad that lacked leaders, a consistent bench, and an absence of toughness when the going got tough is remarkable in itself. Does this mean that the now-former Gopher coach did everything right? Obviously not.
But unfortunately Smith suffered the “Dennis Green syndrome” at the hands of some media members and information bubblers because he didn’t bend over for them enough. Therefore, when things went south this season, the criticism, especially from people who never coached a game but are self-appointed experts, quickly rose like a stench.
Now, as the school searches for their 17th head basketball coach, “We are going to look for the right fit for the program,” pledged Teague. This, I guess, means that a coach with 500-plus wins and a national championship on his résumé is out of the picture.
“I want to see Minnesota succeed. Whatever direction they decide to go, I will be supporting them,” says former Gopher Randy Carter (1991-94), a member of the school’s 1993 NIT championship squad.
Answers to last week’s “Did you know…?”
How many Black coaches have led teams to the NIT finals? How many times were both championship finalists coached by Blacks?
Answers: Six Black coaches: Nolan Richardson, Clem Haskins, Tubby Smith, John Thompson, Tommy Ammaker and Jerry Dunn. And three times have both teams for the NIT championship been coached by Blacks: Minnesota-Georgetown (1993), Minnesota-Penn State (1998) and Minnesota-Stanford (2012).
For more on Smith and the current and future state of the Gopher program, go to “Another View Extra” at www.spokesman-recorder.com.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.