Coach’s supporters struggle with firing

by Andrew Krammer

The negativity surrounding Gophers men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith seemed to gain intensity in each of his six seasons at Minnesota.

No winning seasons in the Big Ten and one win in four games at the NCAA tournament, among other factors, convinced first-year athletics director Norwood Teague to buy out Smith’s contract and start over.

The Gophers stayed relevant nationally by upsetting then-No. 1 Indiana in February and winning an NCAA tournament game for the first time since 1997. But it wasn’t enough for Teague’s new administration to see a bright future.

Fans and boosters, however, expressed their fondness of Smith as a person, saying he affected lives off the court in addition to his work on it.

“It’s a great loss for the University,” Gophers basketball booster Jerry Broeckert said. “I hate to see him go. I don’t think he had to go.”

Broeckert was part of Smith’s “coach’s circle,” an exclusive group of about 20 people that typically met monthly with the coach and his wife, Donna.

“Disappointment,” Broeckert said about the firing. “I’m disappointed in all the media hype about it going into the playoffs. I think it just fuels the fire.”

Don Bromen, president of the “Golden Dunkers” booster club, said although he devotes his continued support to Gophers basketball and the administration, Smith was ultimately a “great human being.”

“Winning isn’t everything,” Bromen said.

The seventh-year member of the booster club recalled Smith’s hiring at Minnesota in 2007.

“I knew his pedigree then, and I was excited,” Bromen said. “I knew it would be a great thing for this program, and I feel it still was.”

Broeckert likened Smith to former Gophers athletics director Joel Maturi and said both “did it the right way, which could be part of their downfall.”

Maturi and Smith are both in their 60s, and Broeckert said there was a “clash in cultures” between Teague and Smith, who was hired by Maturi.

“It’s a generational thing,” Broeckert said.

Broeckert pointed to Smith’s philanthropy work, including the Tubby Smith Foundation, and said it was overlooked in deciding the coach’s fate.

Teague said Monday that Smith is “an outstanding, outstanding person” and took the firing “graciously” despite not finding out until Monday afternoon, around the same time the media found out.

Smith was asked after the Gophers’ NCAA tournament loss to Florida on Sunday if he felt his job was in jeopardy.

“No,” Smith said, marking his last response as the Gophers’ head coach.

Teague said Smith was a “little surprised” when told he would be let go.

Fans at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas, on Sunday said Smith’s name recognition alone garnered national attention that will be hard to get from another coach.

Casey Maikkula, 21, attended high school with Gophers player Rodney Williams. Maikkula said Friday’s win over UCLA in the NCAA tournament round of 64 should’ve been enough to save Smith’s job.

“One win,” Maikkula said. “That’s where it starts.”