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Collegiate Head Coach at Last

smith ncaa season team

When Smith was offered the head-coaching job at the University of Tulsa in 1991, he felt he was ready to take the next step in coaching. However, he did have some misgivings due to the circumstances leading to the vacancy. The firing of one of his mentors, J. D. Barnett, had led to the creation of the opening. Smith accepted the position but faced the difficult task of taking over a team with just five returnees. His first two seasons with the Golden Hurricanes were sometimes trying, but he still managed to guide them to winning records, a 17-13 team was followed by a 15-14 team. Smith’s final two Tulsa squads were a different story. Those teams had identical 15-3 conference records, both taking first place in the MVC and qualifying for the NCAA tournament. In addition, Smith was named MVC coach of the year both seasons. The 1993–94 team finished with a 23-8 mark with their NCAA run ending in the sweet sixteen. Similarly, the 1994–95 team advanced to the sweet sixteen, finishing with a 24-8 record that resulted in the third best win-total in school history. That final Smhttp://articleed.netindustries.us/article/list
Your articlesith-coached Tulsa squad finished with an impressive fifteenth ranking in the final CNN/USA Today poll. In four years, Smith compiled a 73-49 record at the Oklahoma school.

The University of Georgia came calling after witnessing Smith’s quick turnaround of the Tulsa program. Smith signed on as the first black head coach in school history and immediately produced results. In Smith’s first season, 1995–96, he coached the Bulldogs to a 21-10 record in the Southeastern Conference and took the team to the NCAA tournament, where it made it to the sweet sixteen. The next season, Georgia improved its record despite losing eight seniors, including the starting five. Their 24-9 record equaled the school record for wins in a season. Also, those back-to-back 20-win seasons were the first in Bulldog basketball annals. Making those two years even sweeter for Smith was the fact that his son, Orlando Guffrie Gibson Smith, or G.G., was a point guard and a key member of the team. The Bulldogs were ranked seventeenth in the final AP poll heading into the 1996–97 NCAA Tournament with a number three seed but were upset in the first round. That 45-19 two-year record, however, achieved with different starting line-ups, drew attention from the University of Kentucky (UK).

C. M. Newton, UK’s athletic director, who had been instrumental in bringing Smith to Kentucky as an assistant under Rick Pitino, was now determined to steal Smith away from Georgia to head one of the most successful programs in collegiate history. Pitino, who was headed to Boston to coach the NBA’s Celtics, initially supported the hiring of former assistant Billy Donovan, who had since become head coach at the University of Florida. Eventually, Newton’s overwhelming support for Smith caused Pitino to endorse Smith’s courting, even calling Smith himself to convince him to take the job. However, Kentucky had once been the home of legendary coach Adolph Rupp, who had had a reputation for racism. Even in the late-1990s, the possible hiring of Smith fueled controversy across the Bluegrass. Nevertheless, Newton interviewed only Smith and offered him the position. After a certain amount of soul-searching, Smith agreed to jump SEC institutions to take over the helm of the storied program. The University of Kentucky’s athletic association unanimously approved the hiring in a mere seven minutes. Thus, Smith became the first black head coach in the program’s history.

If winning will silence one’s harshest critics, then Smith quickly closed the mouths of any Kentuckians doubting his abilities prior to his first season. In spite of a major loss of talent from Pitino’s 1995–96 NCAA champions and 1996–97 NCAA runners-up (those teams lost six players to the NBA alone), Smith coached his young charges to take the regular season SEC title, as well as the SEC tournament title. Kentucky entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed and rolled through the first three games before colliding with top-seeded Duke University in the NCAA’s South Region final. Down by 18 points in the first half and still trailing by 17 points midway through the second, the Wildcats rallied for an improbable two-point victory. The final four semi-final was similarly dramatic, as Kentucky came back from a five-point halftime deficit to beat Stanford University by one point in overtime. When the University of Utah led Kentucky by 10 points at halftime of the title game, it looked dire; no team had ever recovered from more than eight points down in a final. The “Comeback Cats,” however, once again proved their resiliency, fighting back to post a nine-point win and grab a national title at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Plus, Smith was able to share it with his second son, Saul, a freshman point guard on the 35-4 team. After the season several individual honors rolled in for Smith, including National Coach of the Year by Basketball Weekly .

In the six seasons completed after winning the NCAA title, Smith guided the Wildcats to SEC championships in 2000, 2001 and 2003, as well as SEC tournament championships in 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2004. Through 2004, all seven of his Kentucky squads qualified for the NCAA tournament and none has ever bowed out in the first round, while two have reached the elite eight. None of his Wildcat teams has won fewer than twenty-two games in a season and his cumulative record at the Lexington-based institution is 191-52, for a 78.6 winning percentage. The 2002–03 squad spent much of the year at number one, finishing 32-4, with a number one seed in the NCAA tournament. Though that team came up short in the NCAA regional final, Smith’s coaching was universally lauded that season. He won coach of the year honors from AP, USBWA, Naismith, Basketball Times, The Sporting News , NABC, ESPN, Foxsports.com, the Black Coaches Association and College Sports Television in what may have been the biggest ever sweep of national coaching awards. Following the season, Smith signed a new eight-year contract running through 2011 that would be worth upwards of $2 million per year.

In addition to sons G. G. and Saul, Tubby and Donna Smith have a daughter, Shannon, and a third son, Brian, who like his father and brothers before him, has pursued basketball, specifically point guard. After a notable career at Lexington Catholic High School, where he graduated in 2003, Brian received interest from several collegiate programs and chose the University of Mississippi. At Ole Miss, Brian faced his father twice a season playing at the rival SEC school.

Smith’s involvement with the community has been exemplary. He established the Tubby Smith Foundation to assist underprivileged children and between 2000 and 2005 raised more than $1.5 million. Given his and his wife’s generosity, the United Way created in the summer of 2001 an award in their honor: The Donna and Tubby Smith Community Spirit Award. Not surprisingly, the Smiths were the inaugural recipients, in part for their $125,000 contribution to the organization that year, which was the highest of any individual contributor across the state. Now given annually, the award honors anyone whose outstanding service positively affects central Kentucky.

Tubby Smith is clearly much more than a record of scores. He is a devoted husband and father, a dedicated coach, and a committed community leader. Nevertheless, the numbers do speak volumes. Through the 2003–04 season, Smith compiled a 315-114 record, for a dazzling 73.4 winning percentage in thirteen seasons as a head at three Division I basketball programs. With the exception of his first two teams at Tulsa, he has taken all his teams to the NCAA tournament field. Eight of those eleven squads made it as far as the sweet sixteen, highlighted by the 1997–98 team, which cut down the nets as NCAA tournament champions.

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