Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Tubby And Saul Smith Story

For those of us in Gopher Nation hoping Kentucky fans would quit harping on national title winner Tubby Smith, quit dreaming.

The Kentucky blogosphere--which dominates the UofM blogosphere by comparison--reacted this week over Tubby Smith's decision to hire his son, Saul, as an assistant coach. An article penned by the Pioneer Press' Marcus Fuller set off a series of rants that suggest the hiring of Saul as an assistant was Tubby's motive in taking the Gophers gig.

The excellent Kentucky blog A Sea of Blue makes a compelling argument. It's an argument I tend to agree with.

There were two other factors that most of us (well, at least me) failed to recognize: Smith's family ties and his son's move to coaching. Almost every UK fan knows that Tubby Smith is a huge family man. His entire coaching culture at UK was built around the family model, often to the frustration of some fans. Most of us were at least peripherally aware that Saul Smith was moving into coaching, following his father. These two factors, in my opinion, provided the strongest motivation for Tubby to leave UK.

Saul Smith would never have been accepted as an assistant coach here. Never. And Tubby unquestionably knew this. Smith wanted to mentor his son in coaching, just like he did when Saul played at UK, but that avenue was forever closed to him while he was at Kentucky. Even another national championship (an unlikely happenstance given the direction of the program) would not have provided him with the necessary political capital to hire his son as an assistant here.

Enter Minnesota with an offer on par with what UK was paying Smith. Now, Tubby could go to UM, hire his son, and as a bonus, remove all those little indignities he had been suffering over the years -- all for a very small pay cut. Tubby is not a young man anymore, and he knows more of his coaching days are behind him than ahead of him."
Others have weighed in on this theory as well, including Ryan Ferguson at The Fanhouse. He writes:
When Smith left Lexington in sudden, dramatic fashion -- practically disappearing overnight with no notice given -- one of the first real comments pried from the coach's mouth had to do with "standing with your people." Then, Smith's assistant coaches failed to make the trek with him to Minneapolis, making one wonder what the hell Smith was talking about.

But when you take his son into account, it makes a lot more sense. ... Saul Smith would never have been accepted at Kentucky because he represented a sad and painful period for Kentucky basketball. He was also at the center of the schism between Smith and UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart. For Tubby to take care of family matters first, he had to leave Kentucky. And it might have been the best possible decision for all involved.
Now, if you're anything like me, you don't much care what Kentucky fans think of Tubby Smith now that he dons maroon and gold. But the question is, what do Minnesota fans think about bringing in an otherwise unqualified assistant for the men's basketball team? Are we OK with that hire?

Much of the Minnesota fanbase right now will not come close to criticizing Tubby Smith, AD Joel Maturi or the men's basketball program. It's optimisim time. I'm optimistic too, but that doesn't mean I support the hiring of Saul Smith because he's Tubby's son. And if the Kentucky faithful are right, and Tubby picked Minnesota because he knew--or was promised--he would be able to teach Saul the business, what then?

Nepotism, I think we can agree, is never a good thing. But, at least so far, it seems Minnesota fans are willing to accept it in order to have a high-profile coach take over the spiraling men's basketball program.


WIldcatCane said...

As for being unqualified, Saul was a graduate asst. at UK in 2002-03 and has been an asst. coach at Tennessee Tech for the previous three years. Does that make him qualified for the third Asst. Coach position at Minnesota? I can think of other bigger profile schools that have a young asst., learning the ropes as the third asst., so to say he is unqualified, I believe, is wrong.

As for the nepotism, I can understand the problems with that. I would actually be against it, but it seems to work OK for Oklahoma State,Texas Tech and Bobby Knight.

Bottom line, considering how putrid Minnesota basketball was, I think taking Tubby's son as a THIRD assistant wasn't much of a trade off to get someone with Tubby's credentials.

PJS said...

You might be right on his 'qualifications,' though Smith's other hires--Jirsa and Taylor--are clearly qualified.

I'm just not sure he's earned the spot. It was given to him because he's Tubby's son. And you're right, wildcatcane, Minnesota fans aren't upset about it because Tubby is here to save the day.

Truzenzuzex said...

Thank you for linking to and quoting my comments so extensively, and for the kind words directed at A Sea of Blue.

I just want to react to a couple of your points:

First, as you suggested, it is and should be utterly irrelevant to Minnesota fans what we in Kentucky think. We had Tubby Smith here for ten years, and (as a group, not me personally) we grew tired of him.

Franky, I think he also grew tired of us, and the way some of us acted during his tenure, it is certainly no wonder.

With respect to nepotism, I'd like to alleviate some of your concerns. Kentucky fans have darkened many pixels critical of Tubby Smith, but one thing we have never lost sight of is his unimpeachable ethics. If Saul fails to perform, Tubby will free him up for other opportunities.

Many at UK only saw the negatives of the father/son thing, but truth be told, Saul was a serviceable point guard, worked very hard on his game, and delivered what we needed. Tubby tried to recruit over him, but those efforts simply didn't yield any fruit, more because of the perception that Saul would get preferential treatment than the reality that he wouldn't have.

Saul will work hard as an assistant, and his father will absolutely hold him to the same standard as every other member of his staff.

I wish you all well, and will be following the progress of your program with interest.

Anonymous said...

What pure, unadulterated BS by PJS.

PJS said...

muddled my point in talking about Saul's 'qualifications.'

The conversation I'm trying to have is: Are MN fans OK with the hiring of Saul? I believe he wouldn't be in Minny if it weren't for Tubby.

And would Tubby be in Minny if he wasn't able to bring Saul along for the ride?

Tom said...

I firmly believe that Tubby chose MN as a destination where he can re-build the program then at his timing step down and be replaced by Saul. I believe Truzenzuzex that Tubby will hold Saul to the same standards as the rest of his staff but IF Tubby achieves success at MN, I believe Saul will be our next head coach.

MN Snowman said...

I'm okay with Saul being the third assistant ... in fact, I have to wonder what it would say about Tubby (and Saul) if he weren't an assistant at all. I know of some families in the world of commerce where the son practices/participates separately from the father and there are questions raised about the relationships, the competence of the son, etc.

Saul's "ascension" doesn't seem particularly rushed to me ... he's the third assistant for crying out loud and hasn't been named "Associate Head Coach" or "Assistant Head Coach." If/when that title is conferred, I suspect it will be after sufficient time has passed and credibility established.

As to what impetus it played for Tubby to come to the University, it's speculative to say it played a major role and naive to argue it would have played no role at all. I suspect that having your son as an assistant coach would be a great opportunity for any father and from the sound of it, Tubby cherishes his relationships with family. So I can only conclude it would have been a factor ... but I doubt it would have been the primary reason.

Finally, PJS's statement that Saul is an "otherwise unqualified assistant" strikes me as gratuitous and undeserved. I noted PJS has said it's "muddled (the) point" of his entry. I'd say it was below the belt as Saul has a modicum of experience that seems generally consistent with the position he now holds.