Friday, March 23, 2007

Upside Down Success

Sorry for the long layoff. I just haven't been that upset near a computer lately. That all ends today.

To provide some background, yesterday Tubby Smith resigned as Head Men's Basketball Coach at the University of Kentucky to take the same position at the University of Minnesota. This came in the wake of rumors that he would be fired for lack of success. In this case, lack of success means winning twenty games every year, playing in the National Tournament every year, finishing in the top ten three times, including one national championship. The University of Kentucky has the all-time winningest men's basketball team, so they have the right to high expectations. No doubt they prefer a different kind of coach for the future and they have every right to those opinions.

Now to the insanity. Today on ESPN's Page 2, in their daily opinion section, Jemele Hill began a short commentary with the line, "It wasn't just Kentucky fans who got their wish when Tubby Smith suprisingly bolted to Minnesota. Tubby got his wish, too."

I thought that this was a fitting start to an article on how both sides were able to reach a mutually beneficial conclusion to a very public issue without losing face or doing something they would regret. Not to be. Instead Hill launched into this unconscionable diatribe about how Tubby caved under the pressure of a big school environment and how he should be getting ripped in the press for chickening out and running away. Even the normally sane Gene Wojciechowski made a similar inference in his coaching change commentary.
This world has officially turned upside down in it's thinking. I am perfectly ok with the win at all costs mentality, but when those people who embrace the win at all costs mantra take shots at people with a different measure for success, I must take a stand. Tubby Smith plays a system. He's got an offense that he likes and a very well crafted defensive scheme. He recruits players that will excel in this system, make good teammates and make the school proud. He doesn't necessarily break the bank for recruiting All-Americans and he hasn't bought into the one and done mentality introduced to the NCAA by the NBA's new age limit.
The bottom line: Tubby Smith wants to coach college basketball. In this era of millionaire ballers, colleges that want to compete for the national title have to operate like professional clubs. Tubby doesn't want that and he never has. I was amazed when Kentucky selected Smith to replace demigod Rick Pitino after his ill-fated jump to the NBA. Smith ran a solid program at Georgia, but never aspired to be a celebrity coach, a trait that is not only encouraged, but necessary at the big college level. It was obvious to me, then a high-school student half-way across the country, Tubby was a good coach, but he wasn't going to be what Kentucky wanted.
So here we are, Tubby has run one of the most consistently successful programs of the last decade. Perhaps he had some futile notion that he could convert Kentucky nation to his basketball philosophy, but one thing remains: Tubby Smith is not measuring success by how much money he makes or how many of his players are drafted in the NBA Lottery. He puts a smart, hardworking team on the floor every game, one that is superbly coached and never unprepared. His teams win consistently and compete constantly. Good luck at Minnesota, Tubby, at least there they'll appreciate an annual trip to the Big Dance and twenty wins in their back pocket.
That's success in my book.