The Myths and Realities of Tubby Smith
Myth #1 – Tubby is just an ordinary coach who doesn’t measure up to the Best of the Best in his era or all-time.
Reality #1 – Tubby is 387-145 (now 407-159, 17 years) in his 16 year coaching career. That’s 24-9 (average) per season. Bobby Knight averages 22-9 in his career. Mike Krzyzewski averages 24-8 for his career. Lute Olson, 23-8. Jim Boeheim, 24-8. Rick Pitino, 23-9. Tubby measures up.
Let’s look over the best coaching records from 1998 through 2007 that were:
1. Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, 302-53.
- Roy Williams of Kansas and North Carolina, 277-73.
- Jim Calhoun of Connecticut, 264-78.
- Tubby Smith (formerly) of Kentucky, 263-83.
- Billy Donovan of Florida, 248-86.
- Tom Izzo of Michigan State, 245-92.
Once again, Tubby Smith measures up quite well to the Best of the Best active coaches.
Myth #2 – Tubby has achieved good success in the regular season but not in the NCAA tournament.
Reality #2 – Tubby is 29-13 (all-time) in NCAA tournament games and 23-9 over the prior 10 years (1998 through 2007) at UK.
He ranks 11th best (all-time) in W-L (%) record at 69% just behind Dean Smith and Jim Calhoun at 70% and slightly ahead of Al McGuire and Jerry Tarkanian. He ranks 8th best among active coaches. It is clear (again) that Tubby measures up to the Best of the Best in NCAA tournament results. He is one of only 11 active coaches who have NCAA championship ring(s).
Looking at the 10 years from 1998 through 2007, the best coaching records in NCAA games were:
- Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, 28-9 in NCAA.
- Roy Williams of Kansas and North Carolina, 25-9.
- Jim Calhoun of Connecticut, 25-6.
- Tom Izzo of Michigan State, 24-9.
- Tubby Smith (formerly) of Kentucky, 23-9.
- Billy Donovan of Florida, 22-7.
Myth #3 – Tubby Smith can’t recruit. He only wins when he coaches players recruited by someone else.
Reality #3 – Not exactly. Let’s look at several examples. When Tubby took his first head coaching job at Tulsa in 1991, the roster contained just 4 scholarship players returning. He went to work and recruited some excellent players for his system. After 2 seasons, he took the Golden Hurricane to consecutive Sweet 16 appearances (in 1994 and 1995) with 23-8 and 24-8 records. Those were the first NCAA wins ever recorded by Tulsa. Nolan Richardson coached at Tulsa but never won an NCAA game there.
Another example is Georgia. Tubby moved from Tulsa to Athens in 1995. His first team had 8 seniors and produced a third consecutive Sweet 16 appearance for Tubby. That team had 21 W and defeated #1 seed Purdue (my alma mater) in the NCAA tournament. His next Bulldog team was almost completely his own recruits but proceeded to set a school record with 24 W and defeated SEC champion South Carolina (twice) on the way to the first ever (and only) back-to-back 20+ W seasons at Georgia.
Tubby moved to Kentucky in 1997 when Rick Pitino left UK for the Boston Celtics. UK had experienced uncommon success (best since the 1940’s and 1950’s) during the Pitino era. UK averaged 30 W per season and won 81% of its NCAA games from 1992 through 1997. How can you top that?
Well, Tubby did just that. Despite UK losing 6 players to the NBA draft in the 2 seasons prior to his arrival, he finished out the 1990’s by averaging 31 W per season and winning 90% of his NCAA games. He took players that had never played a major role at UK and coached them to 35 W while defeating three straight 30+ W teams (Duke, Stanford, Utah) to earn the NCAA title in 1998. That’s never been done (before or since) in NCAA tournament annals.
Tubby recruited 6 (of 9) classes at UK that earned Top 15 or better ratings from the RSCI (recruiting consensus) Winners method. No other coach – not Roy Williams, not Billy Donovan, not Mike Krzyzewski, no one – signed more Top 15 rated classes in that timeframe. The RSCI process was created in 1998 by Jeff Crume and is a well respected recruiting website.
With 100% his recruits the prior 5 seasons (2003 through 2007), Tubby Smith won 77% of his games (131-40). From 2003 through 2005, he was 87-15 (85%) for the #1 record in Div I Men’s basketball. I’m reminded of the remark by ex-Houston Oilers’ coach Bum Phillips, who once said, “He’ll take his (players) and beat yours or he’ll take yours and beat his.” Tubby Smith wins with HIS players, whether they are his recruits or not.
Myth #4 – Tubby can’t develop players. His players never seem to reach their potential.
Reality #4 – Once again, not even close to being accurate. Tubby had 3 players at Tulsa drafted by the NBA. He had 2 players at Georgia drafted by the NBA. Collectively, he had 7 players make All-Conference teams at Tulsa and Georgia.
He continued that pattern at Kentucky. A total of 14 of his UK players either were drafted by the NBA or made it as free agents. And 16 of his Wildcats made All-SEC. Tayshaun Prince became the first 2-time All-American at UK in almost 20 years. His UK players dot the UK all-time best lists – Keith Bogans, 4th best scorer ever at UK. Chuck Hayes, 7th best rebounder at UK. Erik Daniels and Marquis Estill, the best lefthanded (Daniels) and righthanded (Estill) FG percentage shooters at UK.
Myth #5 – Tubby didn’t measure up to the lofty standards of Kentucky basketball.
Reality #5 – Yes, he did. He won 76% of his games there and 77% (with his own recruits) the past 5 seasons. That meets the UK average (76%) all-time. He won 72% of his NCAA games there. That exceeds the UK average of 69% in NCAA games all-time.
He won 1 NCAA title in 10 years there. UK has won 7 NCAA titles in the 69 (70) years of the NCAA tournament (since 1939). He won 5 SEC titles and 5 SEC tournament championships in 10 years. Both meet UK all-time results in SEC history (since 1933).
Finally, Tubby is one of the Top 10 active coaches in Div I college basketball. He is universally respected (and admired) by his coaching peers. He won Coach of the Year awards in 1998, 2003 (unanimous), and 2005. His (now broken) streak of 14 straight NCAA appearances and 14 (now 15) straight 20+ W seasons are exceeded only by coaches like Roy Williams and Lute Olson. He is one of a handful of college coaches to have a winning overall record and winning conference record (now broken) in every season of his coaching career.