These are the times that call for magnanimity; a refusal to be petty; for a grateful school and alumni to wish the man the best as he moves on to bigger and better things. And to be sure, Tubby Smith did well during his short time at Texas Tech. He rescued a men’s basketball program that had started to dig itself into a hole during the final years of Bob Knight’s tenure, and later decided the best way out was to keep on digging. The ugliness of the short-lived Billy Gillispie rein and the brave men that succeeded him was finally washed away by the soft-spoken yet well-regarded Smith. He brought respectability back to Texas Tech basketball that had seen only fleeting glimpses of it over the past twenty years.
But in the wake of Smith’s sudden departure, there is exposed an ugliness that he had to this point successfully hidden. He wasn’t at Texas Tech for the kids he recruited and coached. He wasn’t in Lubbock because he respected the community. He wasn’t wearing the Double-T because he was a Red Raider. He was only here until the next, best thing came along.
And there is tragedy in that; a sadness that befits the whole state of affairs in big-time college sports. Smith wasn’t the hottest coaching commodity when Tech A.D. Kirby Hocutt hired him in April of 2013. He’d recently been fired from the University of Minnesota, after taking that job in 2007. He landed in Minneapolis as a way to escape the Klieg lights in Kentucky, where, although he won one National Championship in 1998, he never fully won over the bluegrass faithful.
Smith’s arrival in Lubbock was met with mixed reviews. Some thought it was a great hire, a stabilizing watchman to right the program with a steady, pragmatic hand. Some thought he was too old–not splashy enough to entice quality recruits to entrust their basketball futures to him, particularly in the gauntlet that is the Big 12. It turns out both views were wrong. Smith revived the program quickly and brought excitement back to starved basketball fans all across the South Plains. It was a stunning turn-around. And it makes his surprise departure even that more painful.
For those that pay attention to the ugly underbelly of the NCAA, Smith’s bolt to Beale Street shouldn’t be a surprise. It is just another in a long line of hypocritical moves by coaches that sit in living rooms across the country, promising moms and dads that they have their sons’ and daughters’ best interest at heart. But they don’t. When the dust settles and truth is exposed, the only thing that truly matters is what is best for them; the coaches that make millions while the kids they entice to join them can’t even sell their own signature for five bucks. Smith reportedly turned down a five-year contract that would’ve paid him an average of $3 million per year to stay in Lubbock. But he left.
It’s funny because the only two similarities between the last two headline-grabbing coaching departures at Texas Tech have been in name only. Tommy Tuberville made empty promises to recruits at a steakhouse minutes before climbing out a bathroom window to escape to Cincinnati. And yet somehow, Tuberville’s departure now seems nobler. At least his was done with the knowledge that things might be better in the long run with him gone. It’s hard to say the same about Tubby’s exit.
So now Tubby Smith is gone, and with him the great expectations for the future of the men’s basketball program at Texas Tech. The magnanimous thing to do would be to wish him well. But I don’t. I’d rather focus my good thoughts toward the young men he left behind, and wish them all the success. For every Tubby Smith that betrays your confidence, there are thousands of us that are glad you are here. There are thousands of us that are proud to be Red Raiders, and thrilled that you chose to be as well.
The Tubby Smith’s of the world are fleeting; always searching for something bigger, something better. Whether it’s Memphis or Kentucky or any of the other supposed coaching meccas, those decisions to jump don’t often work out as well hoped. You’d think they’d learn, but often they don’t. Odds are Tubby will be back at a tiny, launching pad school in a matter of years, making promises to young men and their fans that he fully intends to break.
And for the rest of us, we’ll continue to make due at Texas Tech. We’ll continue to support and encourage the good folks that want to be here with us.