The Gopher's Season is Fading But Firing Tubby Smith Is Not The Answer

Andy Lyons

There was not game recap after the Iowa debacle, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. The title would have been something like...

  • Gophers Try To Catch Early Flight Out of Iowa City After First 7 Minutes of Game
  • Gophers Think Big Ten Games Are Only 10 Minutes Long
  • Outcoached...again
  • Iowa Cripples Gopher Offense With Inventive New Defense
  • Punchless in Iowa City

Whatever your headline, it was an ugly defeat and incredibly frustrating to watch as the Gophers built a 16 point lead in the first seven minutes only to then be outscored 67-30 the rest of the way. A 16-2 run in the first half and a 15-3 run in the second were brutally ugly and this is why Gopher fans are collectively up in arms about the direction of the season and the program. Tubby was thoroughly outcoached (again?) as his team was befuddled, perplexed and baffled by a simple 2-3 zone defense. The problem was less about their inability to get good shots against this complex defense, it was that the vast majority of possessions ended in a turnover or a desperation shot with a few seconds remaining on the shot-clock. It was truly embarrassing. That's all I've got to say about that because that's not what I want to discuss today. I want to talk a little bit about the state of the team in this current season then a lot about the state of the program as we move forward.

The current situation is still just fine. I'm really tired of hearing local radio personalities factually state that we are clearly moving towards not making the NCAA Tournament. Clearly people do not pay attention other teams and to what the NCAA Tournament selection committee actually uses to determine who is in and who is out. If the entire decision was based on your worst 30 minutes of basketball on the road against a decent but not as talented team, then we are clearly OUT. Fortunately for us our entire body of work is what matters most. We still sit with very good resume numbers and I still have zero doubt about our NCAA eligibility. We could play our way out of the tourney but it would likely take a 1-5 finish or worse to complete the debacle.

RPI - 15
SOS - 2
Bracket Matrix avg seed - 6

Right now we have the #2 strength of schedule in the country! For all of the bru-ha-ha you may hear from other other fans and local media about our weak scheduling, the fact is our schedule is tougher than 345 of the 347 D1 teams. Part of that is due to playing in the Big Ten so clearly that bumps up our number, as it does for the other 11 conference teams. We faced 4 other BCS level opponents (USC, Duke, Stanford and Florida State) and then 5 other RPI top 100 mid-majors (NDSU, SDSU, Richmond, Tenn St and Memphis). Only 2 of our non-conference opponents sit outside the RPI top 200. The fact remains we are still safely in the tournament due largely to our SOS and the Big Ten's reputation. Our numbers were barely effected by the loss in Iowa City (regardless of how ugly it was).

It is SO easy to focus on the really bad losses right now and dismiss any decent wins as lucky (and I'm not trying to convince you to do the opposite of that). But this is just about looking at our full body of work on paper. We have 8 losses. 2 of those are bad ones, 6 of those are completely acceptable (on paper). Losing two road games to Northwestern (RPI 116) and Iowa (81) are the bad ones; the rest are all to teams in the RPI top 30. Duke (1), @MSU (5), Mich (8), @Ind (12), @Wis (27), Illinois (29) are all respectable losses on paper. The facts are, our resume is still very good especially when you also factor in our four wins over RPI top 30 teams. The resume is strong, the current product is not.

As it stands we are slightly above the mediocre fray with plenty of opportunities to improve upon this season with the Big Ten Tourney and NCAA Tourney still on the schedule. Are we good enough to finish at the top of the conference? No. Are we elite? LOL. But we have an ever growing fanbase who is acting as though we are the worst team in the Big Ten and we are outraged because we deserve to be in the upper tier. I do have plenty of problems with the direction of the program and with Coach Smith. I'm not apologizing nor making excuses for him. With each passing ugly performance it is getting harder and harder to not only watch this team but envision any sort of positive outcome to this season. Chip Scoggins summed it up perfectly...

This is Smith's best team. These are his players, and he did nothing to temper expectations before the season or when the Gophers climbed into the top 10 in January. Whether everyone overestimated the talent level on this team is inconsequential, because the Gophers have exhausted their supply of excuses in recent years. They have nothing left to blame except themselves.

And now I believe this is where the historical performance vs. having high expectations debate rages and both sides of this argument do their best to yell over each other without hearing each other. I'll get back to this because so much of this discussion surrounds the coaching staff, so let's talk about that.

The Staff

The facts here is the number $2,500,000, which of course is the buyout necessary to fire Tubby Smith. Scoggins also points out in his recent column that to make a coaching change it would cost the athletic department about $6 million. Smith's buyout plus assistant severances plus buyout of new coach. And then you still will have to pay this person around $2 million per year. To be fair, we are going to be paying the $2 million salary regardless so the fair number of what it would cost to fire Coach Smith is $4,000,000

So the question I ask myself is, is it worth $4,000,000 to change coaches after getting north of 20 wins and an NCAA Tournament bid? Is it worth $4,000,000 if we manage to get an NCAA Tourney win? As a fan it is really easy to be pissed at some wasted opportunity this year. It is really easy to point out the lack of improvement, lack of accountability, the lack of game prep, our offensive futility and the inability to look relatively competent against a zone defense (among MANY other things).

But on the other hand, it really isn't that simple. We are not a terrible team by any measurables (even if we played terrible on Sunday), What we are is an above average college basketball team. How many programs would be pleased to have had a run to the NIT Championship game (not that the NIT is a worthwhile goal, but it showed some improvement and ability to win games on the road in a tournament format), a top 10 ranking midway through the following season and likely a favored seed in the NCAA Tournament? Forget the NIT, there are a lot of programs who would be pleased with a favored seed in the NCAA Tournament. This is not to say that we should be sending Tubby a thank you card, we shouldn't. But have things been SO BAD this year that it is worth burning $4,000,000? We are not at Dan Monson levels of futility, in fact we are right at Clem Haskins levels of success through the first 6 seasons of either tenure.

AND we are back to the historical performance vs. high expectations debate. The arguments that all we want are semi-regular NCAA Tournament appearances and occasionally finishing in the top tier of the Big Ten with an opportunity to win the Big Ten. Clem went to 6 NCAA Tournament appearances in 13 seasons (just under 1/2 the time) and only once in 13 seasons did he finish in the upper tier of the Big Ten. A couple of other times he finished 4th but was 4 or 5 games out of first place so I'm not counting those as upper-tier seasons. What Clem has on his resume that Tubby does not are NCAA Tournament wins and runs to the 2nd weekend.

Is Tubby basically meeting those same standards? Is that good enough? I think we all want more so the short answer is no, but is it worth putting the Athletic Department another $4,000,000 in the hole because we are achieving historical norms?

I am willing to bet that nearly all of us want more for the program. We want not just a top-4 finish but a legit shot at winning the conference once in a while. I want to see a change in the coaching staff, one way or another, but I'm quite confident that firing Tubby Smith is just not going to happen this year.

I'll say it again with more confidence...Tubby Smith is not likely to be fired. This is not what I "want" but you have to look at the facts of the situation. $4,000,000 is a significant part of the equation, and that might be enough, but it isn't even the full story.

Regardless of how much more we want from this program and regardless of how easy we think it might be; the fact is the rest of the world looks at our program differently than we do. Ultimately it will come down to this. What coach, in his right mind, is going to come to Minnesota when we just fired a well-respected coach who took this program to the NCAA Tournament three out of six seasons! Any coach who looks at our historical performance and sees a program that makes the Tournament 1 out of 3 seasons (10 out of 32 to be precise) and then fires a coach who made it 50% of the time is going to see a situation that is going to be incredibly difficult to succeed in. The coach you will hire will certainly be a young and passionate coach who will likely have very little experience and most importantly very few other opportunities.

So in my opinion the answer is not firing Tubby Smith. You are taking $4,000,000 and letting the roulette wheel spin. Maybe you get lucky and hit the jackpot with a great young coach who you discovered before anyone else did, or maybe you get the basketball Tim Brewster. Chances are you land somewhere in the middle and are stuck in mediocrity, right where we are now. The answer, in my opinion is not firing Tubby Smith. The program is mediocre, not lower tier and it is irresponsible to spend $4,000,000 to hopefully get out of mediocrity.

With that said, status quo is NOT AN OPTION. There are two acceptable scenarios in my opinion.

Scenario 1 - Tubby Smith accepts another job, leaving on his terms.

He did this once before and maybe he'll do it again. Maybe he sees that his desired practice facility is still years away and he obviously notes the growing pitch-fork mob assembling outside of Williams Arena. Get out before he is shown the door. This might be the best case scenario for all involved. Norwood Teague can publicly state that we are sad to see Coach Smith go, he did a find job with the situation he was given six years ago and we were thrilled to have 3 NCAA Tournament apperances in 6 seasons. Privately he can pull another rabbit out of the hat by picking his 2nd Shaka Smart (assuming he has very little chance of landing the real Shaka Smart).

Scenario 2 - Tubby stays but is strongly encouraged that staff changes are absolutely necessary.

This might not be a bad scenario either. Breaking up the country club and bringing in some new voices (and offensive strategists) could be a real boost to the program, even with Tubby still at the reigns. If you look at other successful programs they often have a very talented and loyal staff that compliments the head coach. To be fair you really can't pin every single dysfunction on Tubby. His staff should be just as responsible for player development, recruiting and game-planning. These responsibilities should be delegated properly and if they are not managed well, then maybe it is time to bring in a staff that can be of more help. Ultimately all of this is Tubby's responsibility, but maybe some new blood will make everyone look better.

I fully expect to see one of those scenarios take place in the offseason. Status quo is not an option and there should be outrage if nothing changes before practice begins in mid-October. I really don't believe firing is a responsible option either. It is a waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere. Down the road? Maybe firing is the way to go, but not now. There need to be changes but there are other options.

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