Mar 6, 2013; Lincoln, NE, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach Tubby Smith talks to an official during the game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the first half at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. Nebraska won 53-51. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota's Firing of Tubby Smith Shows Gophers Basketball Has Delusions of Greatness

Reasonable or not, Norwood Teague believes Minnesota University is conducive to championship-caliber basketball.

Teague ruled on Monday that sporadic NCAA tournament appearances, subpar postseason success and mediocre recruiting are insufficient benchmarks for Gophers hoops, firing the man who helped put the program back on the map without ever making it a point of interest.

Feb 20, 2013; Columbus, OH, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach Tubby Smith directs his defense against the Ohio State Buckeyes at the Schottenstein Center. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Tubby Smith’s six-year reign at Minnesota is finished according to Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports. The 61-year-old head coach, who notched his 500th career win mid-season, was fired earlier this afternoon, just one day after his team bowed out of the NCAA tournament in the round of 32. The university has chosen to buy out the remaining years of his contract.

Consider this move a grandiose gesture of inflated self-worth. Message received.

Smith delivered the school’s first NCAA tournament win since its 1997 Final Four run under Clem Haskins, which the NCAA vacated three years later in response to a wide-ranging academic fraud scandal involving players on the team. Minnesota’s last upheld NCAA tournament win dates all the way back to 1990, when Willie Burton completed one of the  best seasons — and the best single tournament performance — in school history.

While Smith never molded Minnesota into a Big Ten heavyweight as the school had ambitiously hoped, he did bring a level of consistency and reputability once foreign to the program. The Kentucky-turned-Minnesota boss made the NCAA tournament in three of his first six seasons at the school, the only coach in program history to accomplish such a feat. Smith is also the only coach in program history to assemble five 20-win seasons over a six-year span. Grounds for firing? Only if you have delusions of blueblood pedigree.

Teague wields sky-high expectations — that encroach on the impossible — for the future of Minnesota basketball. He wants to groom the Gophers into something the program has never been before: a perennial Big Ten superpower. Minnesota isn’t Indiana, Michigan State, Michigan or Ohio State. Its upside falls closer in line with Battle for the Axe rival Wisconsin. The state of Minnesota, while becoming more fertile grounds for top high school hoops talent, doesn’t yield the same volume of blue-chip talent on regular basis as Indiana or even Ohio.

Above all, Minnesota is not a national brand. The Gophers can’t plunge into recruiting hotbeds like New York City, Philly, D.C. and Chicago to poach coveted players. The program has never landed a consensus Top 25 player from out of state, though Smith has come the closest with Ralph Sampson (Georgia native). The school’s best recruiting coups over the last decade — Rodney Williams, Royce White, Bryce Webster — were all Minnesota natives plucked straight from the school’s backyard. Minnesota wasn’t a brand name before Smith arrived and it won’t be in his wake either.

Recruiting under Smith wasn’t world-class, but it was at an all-time program high, well above the level Dan Monson set in the early 2000s. The Gophers were in play for the top two in-state targets — Tyus Jones, the nation’s No. 1 point guard, and Rashad Vaughn, a five-star shooting guard — in the class of 2014. Although Minnesota had never been the leader for either prospect, the program can safely kiss goodbye any lingering chances in light of the coaching upheaval.

Of course, Norwood Teague is unfazed by any short-term speed bumps. The Gophers have visions of greatness. Whether they’re real or imagined, Teague and rationality strongly disagree.


Tags: Basketball Minnesota Golden Gophers

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