The University of Michigan Men's Basketball Program has done it again. And just when I thought they were on the right track when they let Tommy Amaker go. The University of Kentucky's Tubby Smith, one of the best coaches in college basketball, is leaving UK to take the job at, drum roll . . . . . . Minnesota. Great. This, of course, is not good for Michigan on a variety of levels.
First, it means Tubby Smith was available and we failed to get him. Michigan should be one of the premier jobs in college basketball. But, it's not. Which, is understandable given the scandals, dilapidating stadium, lack of practice facilities, and the losing. But, it's not like Minnesota is, well, Kentucky. Yes, Minnesota has been a decent program, but they are no stranger to scandal and certainly the school does not have the history and legacy of the University of Michigan (yes, this is me being an arrogant Michigan fan for a moment -- But, c'mon, this is Minnesota, not Duke or North Carolina or UCLA). I'm not even saying Michigan is above Minnesota in terms of attractiveness of the job, but we certainly can't be much worse.
If Tubby Smith was available, and obviously he was (he took the Minnesota job) then there's no reason why Michigan should not have paid whatever it would have taken to sign him. He would have instantly given the basketball program the credibility it lacks and would have been exactly the kind of big-name, energizing new coach which would instantly get the student body back into the basketball team. Sure, there were some at Kentucky today who are now happy that Smith is gone, and were never satisifed with his performance following Rick Patino, but let's not downplay what he did. He won a national championship. He made the NCAA Tournament every year he was at Kentucky, and won almost 200 more games than he lost in the past 10 years. He's about as close to a sure thing as far as a coaching candidate goes as you can get. Which is why Minnesota agreed to pay him $1.8 million a year according to ESPN.
The double whammy part of the Smith move is that now, the Kentucky job is available, and it instantly becomes the most sought after job in college basketball. ESPN's list of candidates is jaw-dropping.
According to sources, Marquette coach Tom Crean, Michigan State's Tom Izzo, Memphis coach John Calipari, Gonzaga's Mark Few, Notre Dame's Mike Brey, Texas' Rick Barnes, Texas A&M's Billy Gillispie and Villanova's Jay Wright are expected to be candidates for what is one of the few premier jobs in men's college basketball.
Let's take Izzo's name out of contention right now (I can't imagine he would leave Michigan State for Kentucky...I just can't see that happening) but even so, Michigan is now going to have to compete and outspend Kentucky if they want a top candidate, and they won't. If they weren't willing to pay for Tubby Smith, I can't see them doing the same for Tom Crean or Mike Brey or anybody else Kentucky might also want. If you were a coach, where would you rather go? To Kentucky, where basketball is king, or Michigan, where even the Fab Five had a tough time displacing Michigan Football as king of the university? Basketball will always lag behind football here, and Michigan may not be willing to pay a basketball coach more than what they are paying Lloyd Carr. And that is going to mean they might not be able to attract the quality of candidate they really want. Plus, another Big Ten team just became a lot better, which will make recruiting harder and Big Ten play tougher.
The ante has been raised for the University of Michigan. With Smith off the board, and Kentucky sure to spend the money and attract the top talent to their university, Athletic Director Bill Martin has to step up, open the purse strings, and hire the right guy. Unfortunately, for Michigan, the "rightest" guy (to butcher the English language) is now a Golden Gopher.