U athletics can’t escape Tubby Smith rumors

Rumors have spread that Smith is a candidate for a University of Oregon opening.

Michael Rietmulder

As the NCAA tournament progresses, so do rumors of possible coaching changes throughout college basketball. The University of Minnesota has been unable to avoid speculation, as menâÄôs basketball coach Tubby Smith has been the subject of multiple rumors. The latest buzz names Smith as a candidate to fill the coaching vacancy at the University of Oregon. Athletics Director Joel Maturi said he sees the rumors as a compliment to some extent because it reiterates the University has a desirable coach in Smith, but he admitted that they can be troublesome. âÄúI get frustrated âĦ because I donâÄôt think itâÄôs true,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúI think Coach [Smith] is happy here. I think he wants to stay here. I think heâÄôs excited about the future here. Now, IâÄôm smart enough to know that things can change tomorrow. IâÄôm not naïve, but I truly believe that.âÄù Part of what has fueled the rumors is that the University has failed to build the practice facility Smith has desired since he agreed to come to Minnesota three years ago. Maturi said the University is committed to building a new facility and that fundraising for the project is underway. Meanwhile, Oregon, which has a prominent donor in Nike founder Phil Knight, is set to open a new $200 million arena next season. Maturi said he has not been contacted by Oregon officials, but he added that doesnâÄôt mean a whole lot. âÄúWhen they do so, the dealâÄôs done,âÄù Maturi said. NCAA guidelines stipulate that universities must request permission to speak with coaches who are currently employed by another school. However, this rule is frequently circumvented through third parties like agents and boosters to gauge the interest of a prospective candidate, Davidson College Athletics Director Jim Murphy said. âÄúSome of itâÄôs unscrupulous,âÄù Murphy said. âÄúSome of the motives are misplaced. At the same time, itâÄôs just something that we have to deal with, and itâÄôs part of the culture.âÄù Murphy has dealt with rumors regarding Davidson menâÄôs basketball coach Bob McKillop, who has been at the school for more than 20 years. In 2008, McKillop led the 10th-seeded Wildcats to the Elite Eight, triggering speculation that McKillop might be targeted by other programs, including Marquette University. âÄúWhat you donâÄôt want to do is deal in rumor because thereâÄôs so much speculation and so many half-truths and untruths that are swirling around,âÄù Murphy said. Maintaining an open line of communication with coaches is critical to determining when a rumor may have merit, Murphy said. âÄúHopefully if something is real, youâÄôll know it before it gets in the paper,âÄù Murphy said. Maturi said he speaks with Smith regularly, though he declined to discuss the nature of their conversations. SmithâÄôs name has been a mainstay on the annual rumor circuit the last two years. On March 19, the day the Gophers took on Xavier University in the NCAA tournament, CBSSports.com reported Smith was âÄúcloseâÄù to agreeing to a deal with Auburn University. Smith addressed the rumor in a post-game press conference. âÄúObviously thatâÄôs just talk … IâÄôm looking forward to coming back to Minnesota,âÄù Smith said. The door officially closed on the rumor last week when Auburn announced the hiring of University of Texas-El Paso coach Tony Barbee. However, that wasnâÄôt enough to stop the ever-churning rumor mill. That same day, a Pioneer Press report speculated that Smith was a potential candidate for the head coaching position at Georgia Tech should current coach Paul Hewitt bolt for St. JohnâÄôs University as had been rumored. Hewitt announced his decision to stay at Georgia Tech 24 hours later, thus ending that speculation. Last year, SmithâÄôs name was linked to several other jobs, including the University of Virginia. âÄúI think the longer you are in the business the less you react to those situations, because what you realize is so much of it is just speculation and conjecture,âÄù John DâÄôArgenio, director of athletics at Siena College, said. Siena menâÄôs basketball coach Fran McCaffery was rumored to be heading to Seton Hall University after leading Siena to three straight NCAA tournament bids. The rumblings about McCafferyâÄôs departure turned out to be true, but rather than Seton Hall, it was announced Sunday that McCaffery would take over at the University of Iowa. DâÄôArgenio, who remained tight-lipped through the process, said the proliferation of talk radio and blogging has spawned misguided reports and that commenting on each one would be a mistake. âÄúWe donâÄôt really make comments on speculation because itâÄôs that, and if you start to make the comments, then you have to make them every day,âÄù DâÄôArgenio said. Smith has done his part to quiet the rumors but has stopped short of guaranteeing his return to the University. Maturi said he understands SmithâÄôs never-say-never approach. âÄúHeâÄôs so honorable an individual that thatâÄôs why he has left the door open, so to speak. Not because heâÄôs intending to leave; heâÄôs just an honest guy, and thatâÄôs the way I accept it,âÄù Maturi said.