Tubby Smith was fired from Minnesota last year but has found a home with a Texas Tech program that has had its share of problems in recent years.
A day after Minnesota fired him last March, Tubby Smith heard from the folks at Texas Tech. Before long, they were camping out with him in North Carolina.
Then, before Minnesota had lined up a replacement for Smith, the Red Raiders hired him.
It wasn’t difficult to see why. The Red Raiders had been wracked with instability and losing in recent seasons, going just 3-15 in Big 12 play last season while interim coach Chris Walker attempted to clean up from previous coach Billy Gillespie’s volatile one-year regime.
Smith, meanwhile, had taken four different teams to the NCAA tournament, while winning a national championship and five Southeastern Conference titles at Kentucky, though he left fans at Kentucky and Minnesota wanting more.
So he needed a new home. And, so far, with a group of veterans leading the way on the court, Smith has Texas Tech off to a 6-2 start heading into its game at No. 2 Arizona tonight. Here’s his quick take on the transition:
Were the players skeptical of another coach after what they’ve been through?
A: “Everybody was skeptical to a point when you go through three coaches in the previous three years. You have to build that trust. … I think they respect what we’ve done and they were a very close-knit group that’s helped them become united. A lot of times adversity will break some people.”
Did you think about taking the year away from coaching?
A: “I didn’t have much time to think about it, to be honest. I was offered the job the day after I was fired. It was such a jolt and a shock to my system. You pride yourself on doing things the right way, and we did that in Minnesota. We didn’t come close or win the Big Ten, but we played in the championship of the (2010) Big Ten Tournament for the first time in the history of the school.
What was the decision-making process like?
A: “I took 5-6 days to weigh it and I came to see the place. It was impressive that they were willing to come to North Carolina and then fly me out here. I wasn’t sure I was going to take any job. … But I talked to a number of people, especially (former Kentucky AD) C.M. Newton, who’s been a mentor of mine for years, and I saw the place. I knew the challenges that were here, but I also understand we have been able to help programs before.”
Were you bitter or angry after Minnesota fired you?
A: “Bitter, angry, nobody wants to be fired. But that was the administration’s decision, and they have some great people at Minnesota. Unfortunately, they wanted to go in a different direction. ... But that’s life. You accept it and move on.
“We’ve tried to teach our players that you’re going to have ups and downs, highs and lows, and you’ve an gotta have some balance in your life. Can’t get too excited, not too depressed. At my age (62), I recognize, I’m secure in who I am.”