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Coach Tubby Smith Fired For All The Right Reasons

The national media would have you believe Tubby Smith is a good guy and shouldn't have been fired. Norwood Teague made the decision for the right reasons.

Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Norwood Teague is a fool. At least that would be your impression if you listen to national media types like Jay Bilas and Michael Wilbon.

They'll tell you Tubby Smith is a nice guy and a world-class human being. You'll probably hear them suggest that Minnesota basketball must embrace its position as a run-of-the-mill B1G program, an also-ran that should accept middling basketball. For crying out loud, Tubby Smith once won a national championship. These are the things Wilbon, Bilas and others think a multi-million dollar decision should be based on. They're completely wrong.

For fans, college basketball is first and foremost about entertainment. We want to enjoy watching our team play. We want to have hopes for a brighter future. And we want to watch competent basketball. Tubby Smith didn't deliver any of those things.

After Tubby's honeymoon period, the Minnesota basketball program was rarely fun. A slew of players transferred. Royce White and Devoe Joseph took part in melodramas that would make for a great Bravo reality show. Tubby pointed fingers alternately at his players and the lack of a practice facility. Tubby often seemed unable in press conferences to pinpoint what ailed his teams. On most occasions Tubby's players didn't play with confidence. No one seemed to be having much fun.

But in my view the main reason Norwood Teague pulled the trigger on Tubby Smith is because of the relatively incompetent way he coached and built his team. It's been covered in comment sections, but here are a few recent examples:

  • Against Illinois in the B1G tournament opener, the Gophers, after a timeout, couldn't get the ball inbounds from the side when they had a chance to take a last shot. Brandon Paul said thank you and knocked down a buzzer beater. This was not the only time this happened and it was all rather bizarre watching the players look to achieve the inbounding feat.
  • Against Florida, the Gophers didn't seem to understand that the way to beat the press was to get the basketball to the middle of the floor. They were trying to pass cross-court or up the sidelines, in exactly the locations Florida was trapping. When they tried to get the ball inbounds against the press, on a couple of occasions Elliot Eliason sprinted to the corner. He should have been flashing to the middle to take away the sideline as a third defender.
  • Again against Florida, Tubby made a defensive adjustment and had the Gophers switch on every screen. He did this often. This worked temporarily until Billy Donovan exploited it and found low-post or perimeter mis-matches. This is what resulted in Andre Hollins' fourth foul. This is something that could work with 5 athletes on the floor, but once Tubby put Eliason back in the game, the big fella had no prayer in manning up against Florida's guards.
  • Throughout his tenure, Tubby's offense was cringe-worthy. This season the Gophers were running the flex offense along with some high-low and pick and roll looks. The flex in particular was run with a lackadaisical approach. Cuts were slow and deliberate. At times off-the-ball movement stopped. It was almost as if the players were still learning the offense.
  • And I've tried to block out of my mind how Tubby's teams dealt with zone defenses of any kind and I refuse to remember the game this year at Iowa.
In addition to Tubby's in-game tactics, Tubby Smith didn't seem to have a vision for the program. How did he want his team to play basketball and win game?. We heard a lot about the Gophers doing better out of conference because they could get away from the slow-it-down B1G pace. But if Tubby wanted a run and gun team with athletes, why did he recruit Ralph Sampson III? Maurice Walker? Maverick Ahanmisi? Colton Iverson? Andre Ingram? Oto Oseneiks? Round pegs, square holes. Or maybe just random pegs.

Tubby Smith wasn't fired Monday because he was a bad guy, immoral or a cheater. He was fired because his program wasn't fun, had no direction and his coaching was, at best, suspect.

Norwood Teague and Mike Ellis were brought into the University of Minnesota family with a strong track record of hiring basketball coaches. So it's not surprising Teague and Ellis have determined that it was time to breathe life and modern-day basketball IQ into the program. It's not surprising that Jay Bilas, Michael Wilbon and some members of the national press corps haven't come to the same conclusion. They haven't been watching.