Broken Tackle's Blog

Sometimes things just make sense because they make sense.

Listening to the reactions from both sides over Tubby Smith bolting Kentucky for the head coaching job at Minnesota (and I think we all agree he left Kentucky before they had a chance to ****-can him), it's left me with a lingering thought.

Can someone exist as a good coach and a bad coach at the same time?

I'm not talking about some kind of Jungian schizophrenic type of deal.

But maybe duality is a matter of perception. Tubby Smith coached Kentucky to the national title in his first year on the job, 1998, using players previously recruited and coached by Rick Pitino. Their finishes since then: Elite 8, 2nd Round, Sweet 16, Sweet 16, Elite 8, 2nd Round, Elite 8, 2nd Round, 2nd Round. Pitino, in contrast, took over a team with a bare cupboard (they suffered a nine-year drought from the Final 4 before Pitino brought them back in '93, this year marked their second nine-year drought in school history) and within three seasons he had them one miracle Christian Laettner shot away from the Final 4. They would then reach the Final 4 three times in Pitino's final six years as coach, including a national title in '96.

The knock on Smith wasn't his recruiting skills (though, in comparison to Pitino, anyone's recruiting skills probably seem inadequate), but his in-game coaching skills. Pitino is revered as the only coach in NCAA history to take three different schools to the Final 4. Look at his mid-90's Kentucky teams, revered by many as one of the great college teams of the modern era, and you see only one NBA all-star in the mix, Antoine Walker.

So why is Pitino universally mocked by Celtics and Knicks fans while Tubby Smith is still beloved by Tulsa and Georgia fans (two programs that haven't been the same since he left) and has Minnesota fans salivating over their future?

Again, sometimes it's a matter of perception. Sometimes it just makes sense because it just makes sense. The man Rick Pitino replaced at Kentucky was the legendary coach (and legendary alcoholic) Eddie Sutton. Sutton was an utter disastrous failure at Kentucky; he was the only coach never to lead the team to the Final 4 in his tenure, and he vacated the position after damaging the school's reputation with recruiting scandals. Before Sutton was Joe B. Hall, a long-time assistant of Adolph Rupp, who led the Wildcats to the '78 title. Rupp coached the team for four decades, winning four national titles and is best remembered for refusing to recruit black players, only to have his all-white team upstaged by an all-black Texas Western team in the '66 title game. I listened to a recent interview with Billy Packer, where he mentioned the '78 Kentucky team was "the least excited" of any national title team he ever covered.

Think that one through. Billy Packer is claiming your team was not having enough fun, and was not excited enough.

The point being? Kentucky basketball is a tough sell.

Tubby Smith will probably take the Minnesota basketball team back to the NCAA tournament within the next two years. This might not seem like a big deal, but the Gophers have made just two tournament appearances in the decade since Smith took over the Kentucky job. Their fans would kill for a chance to have an "off-year" similar to the typical Kentucky "off-year."

Chances are, Tubby Smith will get too much credit for bringing Minnesota back to prominence. The truth is, Smith is not a solid in-game coach and he often got out-maneuvered by SEC rivals such as Billy Donovan, Bruce Pearl and Kevin Stallings.

Chances are, Tubby Smith won't get enough credit for what he did at Kentucky. The truth is, in modern college basketball, consistent excellence is very difficult for even the most prestigious of programs. Just look at the struggles this year of Duke, Arizona, UConn, Michigan State and Utah.

Somehow, both of those assumptions seem relatively commonsensical and such is the duality of coaching. Existing simultaneously as a good coach and bad coach is a product of environment and it's a product of perception. Smith exists as good and bad because he exists only through a prism of who is interpreting him. There are very few coaches in basketball, be it pro or college, that everyone can agree on is a good or bad coach. Some claim Phil Jackson is a genius, some claim he's the most overrated coach in sports. Some claim Mike Krzyzewski is a terrific leader and floor general, others point to his complete lack of in-game adjustments.

And usually that kind of thing makes sense because it just makes sense.

 -Broken Tackle


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