The Big Ten coaching fraternity has changed (and for the better) in the last 24 hours. Just a day after the Alford-to-NM rumors were confirmed, as the whole universe knows, Tubby Smith resigned on of the most prestigious jobs in college athletics to become the head basketball coach at Minnesota, a solid but unspectacular program with few non-NCAA-redacted great moments. Minnesota seems to be a nice place, with what from TV looks to be on par with the Phog, Hinkle, Cameron, and the Palestra as a great old basketball barn. Minnesota's Williams Arena is "the Barn," semi-officially. Still, it's not Kentucky. I have a few thoughts on this move:
1. It's probably easier for a guy like Tubby, who has won a championship, to make a move like this. Even if it was with Rick Pitino's players, he's in the club. Moving from Kentucky to Minnesota makes it much less likely that he will ever again cut down the nets with "One Shining Moment" blaring in the background. If Bill Self, for instance, were in a similar situation a few years down the road, it might be a tougher decision sans title.
2. Where's the outrage? I'm not saying there should be any genuine outrage. Kentucky is entitled to its expectations. Nine years without a Final Four bid is a long time for a program of Kentucky's stature. As an IU fan, I resent the hell out of media scolds who tell us we should just accept our lot as a middle-of-the-pack program, so I'm not going to dress down Kentucky fans for that (dress them down for their historical acquiescence in $100 handshakes, racism, and point shaving, yes, but not for having high expectations). The trend at UK, particularly since the blowout loss to Marquette in the 2003 regional final, when Kentucky was ranked #1, has been downward. Kentucky has lost 25 games in the last two seasons. Yet, it seems to me that Kentucky is getting easier treatment than did IU for forcing out the incompetent buffoon who isn't half the coach that Tubby Smith is. Waah, it's not fair.
3. Where does UK go from here? Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart has a tougher job than did Rick Greenspan at this time last year. Both schools ultimately expect to compete for NCAA championships, so they have that in common. But Mike Davis was so deficient in so many ways that Greenspan could hardly have ended up with a worse coach if he tried. Kentucky, on the other hand, can improve, but could also do much worse than Tubby. Tubby won nearly 80 percent of his games, won a title in his first year, advanced to the Elite 8 four other times, and had some really excellent teams that just couldn't quite finish the job in March. Unless Kentucky hires a coach with a NCAA title on his resume (Billy Donovan or Tom Izzo, perhaps, although both seem like longshots), they will be doing exactly what the did a decade ago: they will hire a coach who has a very good but not championship-level record at lesser programs and hope that such success will translate into the highest level of success at Kentucky. I'm not saying they shouldn't be glad to have that opportunity--by all reports, the relationship between Tubby and the fans/administration was getting a bit chippy--but the opportunity is not without risk. It's going to be an interesting few weeks, withthe Kentucky, Michigan, and Iowa jobs open.