Texas Tech is hopeful a one-time national champion coach has enough left in the tank to pick its basketball program up off the mat.
Tech on Monday agreed to terms with Tubby Smith to become the school’s new basketball head coach. Smith will be introduced during a news conference at 2 p.m. today.
Brian Smith, Tubby Smith’s son, tweeted Monday night: “Props to my pops getting the Texas Tech job.”
Smith was in Lubbock on Thursday to meet with Tech officials and tour the school’s facilities, and the two sides had been in talks since.
Smith, 61, replaces Billy Gillispie, who resigned in September amid allegations of player mistreatment and NCAA violations regarding excessive practice time. The Red Raiders were led this season by interim coach Chris Walker, who guided the team to an 11-20 record and its first win in the Big 12 Conference Tournament in three years.
Walker was a candidate to earn the permanent position, and he appeared to be a popular choice among the local fan base, but Tech officials apparently opted on the side of experience in choosing Smith.
Smith guided Kentucky to a national championship in 1998, his first season with the Wildcats after he’d made three trips to the NCAA tournament round of 16 — two with Tulsa and one with Georgia — in the mid-1990s. He led Kentucky to the NCAA Tournament in all 10 of his seasons as Wildcats coach but was unable to reach the Final Four in his last nine. He resigned in 2007 and was replaced by Gillispie, who lasted just two seasons in Lexington.
Smith led Minnesota to three NCAA Tournament appearances in his six seasons at the school, and the Gophers had five 20-win seasons during his tenure. Smith guided Minnesota to a 124-81 record, including a 46-62 mark in the Big Ten Conference. His lone NCAA Tournament win with the team came in the round of 64 this season against UCLA.
But two days after a loss to Florida in the round of 32, Smith was fired by Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague.
“Tubby has had a long and distinguished career and we feel it’s time for a fresh set of eyes for our student-athletes and our program in general,” Teague said last week.
What Smith would take over in Lubbock is a rebuilding project, to say the least. The Red Raiders have not made the NCAA Tournament since 2007, and they’ve rarely been competitive since then.
Tech is just 19-43 the last two seasons, including a 4-32 mark in the Big 12. The Red Raiders haven’t had a winning record in league play since the 2006-07 season.
Two years ago at this time, Tech hired Gillispie with the hopes he could do for the Red Raiders what he did at UTEP and Texas A&M, programs he turned around and led to the NCAA Tournament in short order.
But after one season, during which Tech went 8-23, Gillispie was forced to resign after committing secondary NCAA violations for exceeding allowable practice-time limits and allegedly mistreating players.
That left Tech, which had a number of players leave the team during Gillispie’s tenure, scrambling for a coach with about a month until the start of official practices. Tech tabbed Walker, an assistant during Gillispie’s lone season in Lubbock, as the interim coach.
Tech struggled again this season, winning just three Big 12 games. The Red Raiders began playing better at the end of the season, culminating with a win against West Virginia in the first round of the conference tournament.
Still, Smith will face an uphill battle. Tech currently has no players committed or signed to play for the team next season.
But while Smith was never able to transform Minnesota into a contender for the Big Ten title — his teams never finished better than sixth in the league — he did upgrade the talent on the roster. Minnesota was 95-93 overall in the six seasons before he arrived.
The win against UCLA this season was Minnesota’s first in the NCAA Tournament since 1997.
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