some thoughts on kentucky basketball, part 1: uk & tubby smith

I’ve got some takes on the whole UK basketball saga over the past couple of weeks to share. For ease of organization, I’m going to break them up coach by coach.

I’ve been a basketball fan for as long as I can remember. As such, though I am a Texas A&M grad and pull for the Aggies, I also like other teams and love the game itself. So, I appreciate the larger picture rather than simply connecting with the local team. I will not claim that bias never creeps into my thinking–that, of course, is impossible. But I try to be as aware of my biases as I can and take them into account when thinking through something. All of that said as an introduction to these UK b-ball posts, here goes on my first set of thoughts, regarding UK and Tubby Smith, who recently resigned after 10 years on the job to take the head coach job at Univ. of Minnesota.

I began seminary at Asbury, located just south of Lexington, KY, in August 1998. UK is the reigning national champion, having won it in Tubby’s first year. I actually had the great pleasure of seeing a home game with a friend who had some season tickets in the family. It was sweet. 10 rows up from Ashley Judd and everything.

It has been clear that Tubby is a really good guy. He is a good person to have in an influential role around young men. He is a good coach. But he never recruited well enough to have a real shot at winning the SEC, especially given Florida’s rise under Billy Donovan, much less a return to the Final Four. He was able to enjoy some tenure at UK with 10 seasons on the job, but was right to move on. Better to leave on your own than to get fired from Kentucky, which would have happened someday assuming the direction of the program continued its trajectory. Which also brings up the fact that Tubby can take the upsides of his UK resume with him to Minnesota (or to a lot of other places, for that matter) without having to walk around with a “fired” tag around his neck while searching for the next job.

For Tubby, this was a great move. After I digested that it really had happened (which took about a half day, listening to radio show after radio show and thinking, “Ok, sounds like this is real”), I thought it was a great move that saved a bad scenario from playing out sometime in the next 1-2 years. That bad scenario would be UK continuing to slide, but becoming less and less attractive. The luster is missing, but one good hire/tenure can bring that back. Too much more slippage and you’re a moderate fixer-upper. That’s not something that UK should ever be, nor would have tolerated becoming. Being in a position of firing Tubby would have been rough for both sides. No one would have come out of that smelling very good, in my opinion. And Tubby would have been looking for a job from an awkward position–needing one. UK would have been searching for a coach from the awkward position, which there was no way of avoiding in this case either. I think it was Colin Cowherd (host of The Herd on ESPN Radio) who said that UK needed Billy Donovan more than he needed them. Maybe it was Dan Patrick. In any event, it was on ESPN Radio.

That assessment is absolutely correct. That’s where UK found itself–needing it’s first choice way more than that person needed them. That’s also a poor testimony about the state of UK roundball, but it is what it is.

Bottom line, Tubby out as coach is good opportunity for UK basketball.
Tubby leaving on his own for another job is best possible scenario for everyone.

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