VCU’s Smart headlines search to replace Tubby

Shaka Smart is a popular choice to become the next Gophers coach.

by Charlie Armitz

Rumors swirled around the Internet about the next Gophers head men’s basketball coach in the hours following Tubby Smith’s dismissal Monday.

But the University of Minnesota’s athletics department has kept mum despite the rampant speculation.

Gophers athletics director Norwood Teague said Monday that he had a “short list” of candidates to replace Smith but did not name anyone.

Many believe Virginia Commonwealth head coach Shaka Smart is his top choice. Smart has led VCU to three straight NCAA tournaments, including a Final Four appearance. Teague, who was VCU’s athletics director prior to leaving for Minnesota, hired Smart at VCU in 2009. The two worked together along with Mike Ellis, a Gophers associate AD who also left VCU, from 2009-12.

USA Today and Sports Illustrated reported Tuesday that VCU is trying to secure Smart to a new contract agreement, and USA Today reported that both Minnesota and UCLA have reached out to the 35-year-old coach.

While Smart has dominated the headlines, about a dozen other coaches have been mentioned as realistic possibilities to replace Smith. Two of the most realistic options are Flip Saunders, a former Gophers player with many local ties, and Buzz Williams, the head coach at Marquette.

Coaches for major college sports such as men’s basketball are usually replaced quickly, and the Gophers’ new coach could be announced as soon as Wednesday.

If not, the announcement will likely come next week rather than Thursday or Friday, when the college basketball world will shift its attention to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet Sixteen.

A LOOK AT POSSIBLE REPLACEMENTS FOR TUBBY SMITH

Shaka Smart

WHY HE WOULD ACCEPT: Even if VCU extends Smart’s contract, Minnesota would likely offer him more money. Smart has strong relationships with Teague and Ellis from their three successful years together at VCU.

WHY HE WOULD SUCCEED: Smart is known as an excellent recruiter and has built VCU into one of the nation’s most consistent winning programs. His in-game coaching, which features a pressure defense known as “havoc,” has helped him make the most of his talent.

WHY HE WOULD FAIL: “Havoc” might not be suited for the Big Ten, which has better ball-handlers than Smart is used to facing. He doesn’t have many local ties outside of Teague and Ellis, which would present a recruiting challenge.

Flip Saunders

WHY HE WOULD ACCEPT: He follows the Gophers and the local high school scene closely. He has ties to the state from his time at the University and his 10 years as head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. He hasn’t held a head coaching job since the Washington Wizards fired him in 2012.

WHY HE WOULD SUCCEED: He knows local recruits better than the other candidates and would have a better chance of landing Tyus Jones, Rashad Vaughn and Reid Travis — the trio of highly coveted 2014 recruits from Minnesota. On the court, his efficient half-court offense would be an instant improvement over Smith’s.

WHY HE WOULD FAIL: He has limited college coaching experience and has struggled in his last two NBA jobs. He’s known as an average to below-average defensive coach.

Buzz Williams

WHY HE WOULD ACCEPT: Williams has a good relationship with Teague and Ellis, and he hasn’t been on great terms with Larry Williams, Marquette’s athletics director. Larry Williams suspended Buzz Williams one game last August in connection with recruiting violations.

WHY HE WOULD SUCCEED: Williams has led Marquette to the Sweet Sixteen for three consecutive years and hasn’t missed the NCAA tournament in his five years with the Golden Eagles. Unlike Smart and Saunders, he’s proven he can compete in a power conference, the Big East.

WHY HE WOULD FAIL: There isn’t a strong case against Williams, but he would likely be only a minor upgrade over Smith and wouldn’t excite fans like Smart or Saunders.

OTHER CANDIDATES: Anthony Grant (Alabama head coach), Brad Stevens (Butler head coach), Gregg Marshall (Wichita State head coach), Andy Enfield (Florida Gulf Coast head coach), Jay Wright (Villanova head coach)