One of the most intriguing names to emerge in the South Carolina coaching search is Tubby Smith. Smith is well-known for his stint at Kentucky, where he won a national title in his first year and coached several other elite teams, including three squads that made it to the Elite Eight. He's also well-known for losing the support of demanding Kentucky fans late in his tenure in Lexington. Since then, he's been at Minnesota, where he's had decent but somewhat mixed results.
Regardless of how things have gone for him over the last few years, there's little doubt that Smith would be an upgrade from Darrin Horn. Absolutely no question about it, and we could do much, much worse than to bring him in. Smith comes with an impressive resume. He has one national title, three Elite Eights, and five Sweet Sixteens. He has had 16 seasons of 20 wins or more. He's never had a losing season. He's a good, admirable man who famously pulled himself up from meager beginnings to become the head coach at one of college basketball's most storied programs. His teams are tough and they play a disciplined form of basketball that a lot of us would be relieved to see after years of watching Darrin Horn's teams. His best defenses, premised on his famous ball-line man-to-man philosophy, are among the best I've seen. Simply put, the guy is hall of fame material.
Yet I wonder if he's the best choice for us. Critics will say he's another Dave Odom. I'm not sure that's quite fair; Smith has enjoyed prolonged success Odom never came close to. But, as with Odom, Smith has been something of an underachiever during most of his career. His early years were unbelievable successes--a rise to stardom at Tulsa and UGA, followed by winning it all in his first year on the Bluegrass. Since then, he's had some very good teams at Kentucky--but none of those teams made the Final Four (he had the longest such stint of any UK coach, where good seasons are measured by Final Fours), despite the fact that some of them were considered favorites. His program, as said, stalled out late in his tenure, according to many UK fans due to subpar recruiting, which infamously included not recruiting future Florida star Corey Brewer in favor of Perry Stevenson. The Minnesota run has been good considering the Gophers' struggles earlier in the 2000s, but Smith hasn't managed to take the program into the same tier as Ohio St., Michigan St., and Wisconsin, and it now appears that Indiana is passing his program. So, yeah, he's certainly better than Horn and even Odom, but he doesn't exactly scream "coach that's going to help us get onto the national stage." It's easy to wonder if his best days might be behind him.
That being the case, my feeling on Smith is that I'd love to have him--but only if we can't get Frank Martin. Martin, to me, looks like the Tubby of the late 90s--he's young, winning, at the top of his game. I'm not sure how I feel about John Groce; we'll take a look at him tomorrow, perhaps. In short, though, I think that Tubby would get the fans somewhat excited and would improve our program, but I'm not confident that he'd take us much past being a consistent mid-tier SEC team.