When Tubby Smith left Georgia after only two seasons in 1997, it was for his expected dream job at Kentucky. If he leaves Minnesota after only three, it’s probably to defrost. And possibly to come back to the South.
Smith, who has the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the NCAA tournament for the second straight season, reportedly is close to becoming the next coach at Auburn, according to CBSSports.com college writer Dennis Dodd.
The report — which follows days of media speculation that Smith could be headed to either Auburn or Oregon — makes a lot of sense. Auburn fired Jeff Lebo immediately following the SEC tournament, and wants to make a splash with this hire. The Tigers are moving into a new $90 million facility next season. They want to hire a proven coach, even if it means paying a significantly higher salary than they’ve paid for a basketball coach in the past.
Welcome to the new SEC, where basketball suddenly matters.
Smith’s return would be a great boost for the SEC. He would give Auburn immediate credibility and obviously create great story lines every time the Tigers play Georgia and Kentucky. For those who’ve never met Smith, he’s one of the nicest, classiest men you’re going to find, a welcome departure in a profession that is overrun with shady characters and self-promoters.
The guy can coach, too. Minnesota went 9-22 in 2006-07, the season before Smith got there. In the three years since, the Gophers have gone 20-13, 20-11 and 21-13 (going into today’s tournament game against Xavier).
(UPDATE: Minnesota just lost to Xavier, 65-54, in the first round of the West Regional. So we should know something fairly soon about Smith’s future.)
(UPDATE II: Smith issued this denial after the game: “Obviously, that’s just talk. I’m very pleased with what we’ve accomplished [at Minnesota]. I’m pleased with where we are in the program. I’m looking forward to coming back to Minnesota.”)
They reached the final of the Big Ten tournament championship game before losing to Ohio State (after upsetting the Buckeyes earlier this season). He has recorded 17 straight 20-plus win seasons in his career, going to the NCAA tournament in 16 of those (nine times to at least the Sweet 16, one championship).
Smith probably knows this is as good as it’s going to get at Minnesota, and it would be a good time to exit. Unless he just really enjoys living in Minneapolis. On that note, tonight’s March 19 forecast: 25 degrees with possible flurries.