Friday, March 02, 2007
Quit Hatin' On Tubby
What would you do with a coach who during his ten year tenure has won five SEC regular season championships, five SEC tournament championships, won the 1998 NCAA title, made it to the NCAA Tournament every year, won an Olympic gold medal in 2000, and has had 9 straight 20 win seasons?
In addition to that record, that coach won three National Coach of the Year awards (in 2003 he won it by unanimous vote and was the first coach in 25 years to do so), had 5 players drafted in the first round of the NBA draft, has never been in NCAA trouble and entering the 2006-07 season had a 365-133 record. (winning percentage of .733)
For some folks in this state the answer would be to fire him.
Like many African-Americans in Kentucky I'm fed up with the yearly calls from some UK basketball fans to "Fire Tubby". When you ask those irrational idiots why they want him ousted as the Wildcat coach they'll come up with the nebulous excuses 'He can't recruit' or 'He's a lousy coach.'
As far as many of us are concerned in the African-American community, those excuses are smokescreens for the real reason they want him gone: Some of those fans are terrified of the possibility that Orlando 'Tubby' Smith could eclipse the record of their beloved Adolph Rupp (876-190) and become the winningest coach in UK history.
Yeah, racism is playing a major part in this drama along with the arrogance of some UK fans. The SEC was their personal basketball playground for years until the other SEC schools got tired of getting their butts kicked by UK and got serious about beefing up their basketball programs. Those fans forget that Kentucky is still an elite program, the winningest program in NCAA history and still has won more SEC titles (47) than anyone else in the league combined.
But the days are over when Kentucky could walk onto the court, say 'boo', have the other team quaking in their sneakers and win by twenty. The perception may be that UK has slipped, but the new reality is that in 2007 there are more elite programs in men's college ball than in the 41 seasons that Rupp coached.
These programs are all chasing a finite number of elite players. All of this 'Fire Tubby' talk has a negative effect on recruiting. It raises questions in elite players minds about the wisdom of signing a UK letter-of-intent if they like Tubby and want to play for him. That makes it harder for Tubby to recruit those very same elite players that are needed to sustain the UK program against the Dukes, Floridas and UConns of the NCAA basketball universe.
So what would happen if the haters got their wish and Tubby got canned? First of all a coach with Tubby's pedigree wouldn't be unemployed long. He'd be coaching somewhere else before the next season started. UK would get lambasted in the national press and by the college coaching fraternity for doing so.
They would instantly cede basketball supremacy in the state to Louisville. The negative fallout from the firing would ensure that many elite and top-tier African-American players both inside and outside the state would bypass Lexington and play at U of L or elsewhere for at least five to ten years. UK will also have a tough time attracting the same type of high quality coach especially after his fellow coaches watched him get shabbily treated by a segment of the UK fan base.
Frankly, I don't think he's going anywhere. He signed an eight-year $20.25 million extension of his contract last year that runs through the 2010-11 season. That's a lot of contract to swallow. But at the same time I know that anything can happen.
In 1986 I watched Fred Akers get fired at Texas basically for losing four straight years to Texas A&M. Never mind the fact he'd won 75 percent of his games. The same thing happened to Aggie coach R.C. Slocum after going 6-6 in 2002 and losing to the Longhorns for four straight years.
It's time for the racist cadre of UK fans to shut up and let Tubby do his job. You'll have nobody to blame but yourselves if you're successful in running him out of Lexington and my prediction comes to pass about UK basketball life after Tubby.