Tubby Smith was hailed as a rescuer when he came to Minnesota from Kentucky in 2007, a championship-certified coach who would revive a once-proud program to respectability after it was brought down by scandal.
Smith accomplished most of what he was brought in to do; bringing the Minnesota Golden Gophers back to the NCAA tournament 3 times, keeping Minnesota free from NCAA violations for 6 years and bringing some energy back to Williams Arena.
When new athletic director Norwood Teague saw the progress stagnate, he made a decision it was time for a different voice to take the following step. Smith was fired one day after Minnesota lost to Florida in the NCAA tournament.
”I feel it’s time for a fresh approach for our basketball program, for our student athletes and the program in general,” Teague declared.
”We felt now following a season where there were high expectancies for this coaching staff that it was time to try a change for the benefit of our student athletes and as we build for the future.”
Smith was 124-81 (.610) in 6 seasons at Minnesota, winning 20 games 5 times and bringing the first NCAA tournament victory since 1997 when the 11th-seeded Gophers beat UCLA Bruins last week. NFL odds
But he went just 46-62 in Big 10 play and never finished higher than 6th in the conference.
Smith was welcomed with wild enthusiasm when he arrived to replace the out matched Dan Monson, who was unable to raise the program from the abyss made by an academic fraud scandal that ended up wiping out the team’s Final 4 appearance in 1997.
Smith won 20 games his first season and took the team to the NCAA tournament the next year, restoring some sense of pride to a team that at one point was the most popular draw in the Twin Cities.
But the success seemed to level off after that. The Gophers made the tournament again in 2010, missed it in 2011 and settled for an NIT bid last year as fans started to grow impatient.
”I wish to thank the University of Minnesota and the people of Minnesota for giving me the chance to lead the Golden Gopher basketball program for 6 years,” Smith said in a statement supplied by the school. ”Our staff did things the right way and will leave understanding that the program is in way better shape than when we arrived.”
This year’s team started 15-1 and rose as high as No. 8, with wins over Michigan State, Illinois and Memphis Tigers during that run.
But they quickly came back solid, losing 7 of 10 games in Big 10 play and squeaking into the tournament as a No. 11 seed thanks largely to a late-season win over then-No. 1 Indiana at home.
The Gophers handled UCLA in the 2nd round of the tournament only to be thumped by Florida in the next round. A typical desist from fans was the players, and the team, didn’t improve as the season went on. The Gophers never finished with a Big 10 record above .500 and completed in 7th place or worse 4 times in his 6 seasons.