Is Shaka Smart? A BS Discussion

Is Shaka Smart? A BS Discussion


Sometimes the BS squad has group texts (texts, I said) or group email threads that may be worth more public consumption. (Other times, they're most decidedly not for the light of day, obviously.) Today's topic: Shaka Smart, and Texas' hire of him. And away we go...  

J: Texas Head Coach Shaka Smart has won two tourney games since their Final Four run in 2011. Just find that interesting.


Mike (RRT): I can't wait to see Smart implement HAVOC with the type of athletes he can get at Texas.


Swamy: I mean...he's made a Final Four in the first six years of his career, never won less than 26 games, has a catchy signature playing style in Havoc that is perfect for the college game, built VCU into a national brand, brought 8 four star recruits to VCU in four years, and he's only 37 years old. And now he has the entire state of Texas to work with.

I'm pretty sure he'll be fine, even though the last two single-elimination tournaments didn't work out for him. Texas hit a home run.


J: I don't think I said he wasn't any good. It was an observation about how he's gotten a LOT of love/credit for the incredibly fortunate run he had in one single elimination tournament while never doing anything in any other appearance.

I guess it is a total crapshoot, though. I mean look at the four coaches who got there this year.


Dave (Zlionsfan): He's also moving to a conference that is miles ahead of anywhere he's coached before, and he's not exactly arriving at the penthouse. The A-10 was loaded with crap teams this year, mostly because it followed Delany's strategy of sucking in any school it could find; the top was similar to mid-level Big 12 teams, but the bottom two-thirds was basically Texas Tech-caliber, and of course Tubby is working on turning that program around.

Also, basketball is not anywhere near the most important sport at that school, as we all know. (Fortunately for Smart, the Jody Conradt days are long gone, otherwise the men's team wouldn't even be the strongest basketball program on campus.) It isn't going to be like at VCU. He'll have a ton more resources to work with, but so do most of his direct competitors ...

I think Texas landed one of the best options available for that job, but I'm not entirely convinced it's a good move for Smart. I think the risk is significantly higher there than it might be at other jobs, and the conference is loaded with coaches that have similar-or-better resumes. I mean, Scott Drew's been at Baylor for 12 years. I would not be surprised at all if Smart has 3-4 nondescript years and ends up resigning or getting fired.


Swamy: That would stun me. Texas is a top 3-5 job in the country. The only in-conference program that can compete is Kansas. Hoiberg will leave ISU either this or next summer, and they don't have the budget to keep their success going. Baylor is a perennial pretender. West Virginia will never go away as long as Huggy Bear exists, and I'm ok with that. Oklahoma isn't looking bad...but come on, now we're talking about Oklahoma.

Texas has access to a perfect recruiting ground, and the basketball job is comparatively low pressure because of the football focus. I think he'll work out to be a Billy Donovan-esque hire.

The only reason to expect failure: Texas AD Steve Patterson, who has a perfect record of incompetence everywhere he goes. But betting on Charlie Strong and Shaka Smart ain't dumb.


Mike: If Purdue hired Shaka Smart I'd be doing backflips naked in the street. Come on, I know you're picturing it right now...

Who is a proven coach (who currently coaches in college)? Coach K, Cal, Self, Williams, Izzo, maybe Bo Ryan (although he took his sweet time getting to his first Final Four), maybe Donovan? Point being, every hire is a risk for both the school and the guy taking the job. At Texas football is king, so Charlie Strong will be the guy under the microscope (and he already is), but basketball will have access to all these amazing resources (as well as being the biggest, most prominent school in a big, talent-rich state) while not be expected to win right away. And he'll make a shit-load of money and basically take a top-5 job in his field. Aneesh compared the Texas job to the Florida job, and he's 100% correct. If Smart washes out at Texas other schools will still be all over him.

And the Big 12 is pretty meh...Kansas has dominated that conference bc they're the only school that has both a great coach and great talent. Comparing Smart to Scott Drew doesn't make any sense to me at all. Drew's strategy is to recruit (and by that I mean, purchase) the best players he can while trying to not visibly shit himself on camera while they fuck it up on the court. OU underachieves, OSU REALLY underachieves, ISU will be mediocre once Hoiberg gets back to the NBA and everyone else is a big ol' plate of "meh". Smart could finish 2nd or 3rd every year in the Big 12 and his job wouldn't be at risk at all. And that's totally doable.

I think you can poke holes in Smart's resume, but they would have been better this year had Weber not seen his season end due to injury, and while they had only one deep NCAA run, they didn't just have the one run and then go away (like George Mason), nor have they had constant middling success but haven't been able to break through to the big time (like Marshall at Wichita St or Few at Gonzaga).

I think in situations like these you hire the smartest guy you can, and I think Shaka is the smartest, most innovative / creative coach on the market. And outside of the six guys I mentioned above, I don't think there's a stronger candidate. I don't know if Smart will ever win it all, but I think Texas hit one out of the park.



J: I would just disagree with this:

"Smart could finish 2nd or 3rd every year in the Big 12 and his job wouldn't be at risk at all."

Barnes went to 16 tourneys in 17 years, including a FF, and had 400+ wins against like 180 losses...and they were not happy with him. I think they expect to win national titles or at least compete for them.

And as for Shaka's success at VCU mentioned earlier and the comments that the Big 12 isn't great, well, yes he won 26 games a year at VCU and again I'm not saying he's not a very good young coach, but the competition in VCU's conference(s) was kind of middling. No Old Dominion in the B12.


Dave: Top 3-5 among available jobs, right? Otherwise I have to assume you are up this late due to excessive imbibing. I mean, you even admit that Patterson is crap ... so unless Smart is running the department as well, I'd say that right there prevents Texas from being a top-5 coaching gig. There are 5 ADs better than Patterson in the Big 12, right? And I don't see how you can tout Texas and dis Oklahoma in the same paragraph. How are the Sooners any different? They have less money, sure, but not at a noticeable level. They have almost exactly the same access to recruiting as Texas does - this isn't the Wooden era, where you can stash the top 10 in-state players on your bench just to keep anyone else from signing them. Plus they have a coach with plenty of major-conference experience who already has the Sooners competing for the conference title.

Maybe Iowa State can't keep their success going - although they've had better peaks than Texas did under Barnes - but they're also more likely to find another hot coach. And what's the difference between Smart and, say, Greg McDermott? One fortunate run in single-elimination play, as J pointed out. VCU was a legit play-in team that year, coming in with 11 losses. They lost to a sub-.500 Georgia State team and a 10-win South Florida team, they dropped their last four conference games (sandwiched around a one-point win over Wichita State, no less), and ended up losing in the Final Four to a mid-major with a better coach.

What if VCU draws Wisconsin in the first round instead of Georgetown? That's what happened to Northern Iowa when they were an 11 seed under McDermott. Wisconsin beat them, and that was that.


Mike: What's the saying? If my Aunt had balls she'd be my Uncle...I don't put a lot of stock in "What ifs". What actually happened holds way more weight for me than was could have happened in some alternate universe. I can't just write off a Final Four run as lucky just because it only happened once. What I think that demonstrated is that Smart developed a style of play (HAVOC) that the rest of college basketball wasn't ready for. That shows creativity, smarts, and an understanding of how to apply your talent in the best way possible to maximize your chances of winning.

Regarding OU vs Texas; OU has a big athletic department, true, but last year Texas pulls in over $32M MORE in revenue than Oklahoma did. That's pretty noticeable. And the Sooners haven't been a lot different than Texas in recent history; my point is hiring smart gives Texas an advantage in the coaching column.

The top jobs thing is a lot subjective, but the real top jobs are what, UK, Duke, UNC, Kansas, and...? Texas' money, facilities, and geography relative to talent make a pretty compelling argument that it deserves to be in the conversation.

I think the 16-18 season that put Texas in the CBI in 2013 was what really started the timer on Rick Barnes' firing. And that FF was in 2003. Now, there's no question in my mind that if you change the name of the school from "Texas" to "Purdue", Rick Barnes still has a job. Texas does hold their coaches to a higher standard. Finishing in the bottom half of the conference in three of the last four years wasn't going to fly, regardless of whether they snuck into the NCAA Tournament or not.


Swamy: My thought, if you removed all of the institutional BS surrounding the jobs and just weighed facilities, history, and recruiting grounds:

  1. Kentucky
  2. UNC
  3. Texas
  4. Kansas
  5. Indiana
  6. UCLA
  7. Duke (I'm not sure anyone but K could succeed there)
  8. Louisville

*big gap*

Then Arizona, Florida, Ohio State, and everyone else.


J: I think the whole "greatest job" debate is sort of elastic (like my favorite dress pants). UCLA should be on this list for sure thanks to their history, recruiting ground, fan support, alum support, etc. But 30-40 years ago this was top 1 or 2. Is Louisville really that great a job or has it been propped up by Crum and Pitino for decades? And IU? Is it really still there? Mediocre facilities, jekyl/hyde fan support and Cal in your backyard. And I mean, if it's that great a job, why is Tom Crean holding it?

I assume Texas is on your list simply because of the recruiting ground, facilities, money, and alum support. All great reasons. But does anyone aspire to be the coach at Texas any more than a dozen other schools? Does winning at Texas make you a legend? I'd argue no -- it makes people (like me) say, "Well, it's Texas. He should be winning with those advantages."

So I agree UK is probably the best job and I also think UNC and Kansas should be on the list, but I don't think there's a big gap between, say, Florida, OSU, Az and programs like Texas, Louisville, IU, etc.



Dave: Aneesh, my friend, you are flat-out insane. You have Texas third on a list that mentions history. That might not even be true in football. Geography, who cares? You guys know what kind of cash the top schools pull in. When it comes to basketball, any of the top 20-30 major-conference programs can recruit anyone anywhere anytime. Facilities? They play in a 40-year-old arena that doesn't even seat 17K. Texas may be attractive because they are a major-conference program with a solid TV deal, but they have an idiot AD and about eleventeen sports that are more important than men's basketball, starting with football and ending with football. If you're considering inverted expectations, maybe they're up the list, otherwise they do not belong with the schools you listed. I mean, Ohio State trumps Texas in each of the categories you mentioned. OSU coaches have been recruiting top talent for as far back as we want to go ... and they've been far more successful than Texas coaches. Their stupid arena looks like one of the better NBA arenas. Their stupid history has stupid Final Four appearances all over the place. (I'm going to go throw up now.)

If Smart were hired tomorrow to coach the Boilers, I'd have the same list of concerns about him. VCU has struggled when they faced major-conference teams that have seen pressure before (sigh). Two of their last three losses in conference play this season - the third being the destruction at the hands of Davidson - came against teams that slowed the game down against them. Yeah, VCU was missing players, but that's a thing that happens. If one or two guys prove to be irreplaceable, then that's an Achilles heel he won't be able to overcome. At least Painter handles Wisconsin fairly well.

VCU sucks at the line. (That sounds familiar ...) They actually haven't been impressive from the field, either. If they're accurate from three, as they were in 2011, then they can be dangerous, which makes them like pretty much every other high-tempo team in the country. If they're not ... then they're a team that relies almost completely on transition. The Big 10 is full of teams that don't turn the ball over much; the A-10 has plenty that do. Richmond's one exception (VCU is another), and the Spiders basically split with VCU (1-1 in regulation, another win in 2 OT).

We already have a coach who can put together a really good team if only everything goes in his favor ... only he was doing that in a major conference. Smart has not yet done anything in a major conference. Maybe he'll succeed at Texas. I don't think he's done that much to suggest he will.

Also, why do you think Hoiberg is going to leave ISU? Where would he go? Like another coach we've examined in great detail, his value is likely greater where he is than it would be anywhere else, especially if he has another season where the Cyclones look good during the season and flop in the NCAAs. If he moves to a better job, then he'll have no margin for error; if he moves down, he'll be competing indirectly (or directly) with a number of established mid-major coaches.


Boilerdowd: If I did naked backflip, my dong would give me black eyes (again). I know because it's happened.


Swamy: Few last points, before Dowd's member goes wild again.

The stadium argument is a bad one. Cameron Indoor is a 75 year old concrete slab that doesn't seat 10,000. Rupp arena is a 40 year old sack of shit arena with high walls and a domed roof.

(Just to make sure of this, I texted the biggest UK fan/alum I know and he responded "No. It's an 80 year old sack of shit. I actually don't know how old it is but it's the biggest piece of shit ever. If anyone EVER says Rupp is awesome then ask them why we play all our big games at the KFC Yum Center. There's no suites at Rupp. It's a shit hole. I hate to be "that UK fan" but seriously this is Kentucky f'ing basketball and our arena is awful. Our football team makes more than our basketball team because of our stadium." He had opinions.)

What they do have are deep donor pockets, proximity to two of the four best recruiting markets in the country (North Carolina and Indiana/Chicago. Texas and Southern California are the other two). Texas has all of that, without the "championship or bust" pressures, and with gorgeous athletic dorms and a shiny athletic training facility. Texas easily has the deepest pockets of any school out there, and all they have to do is make one splashy hire (see: Shaka) and they can watch the money pour in. They also have Austin, which is the coolest city on Earth.

And...yeah, my ranking of best jobs doesn't mean much. You could easily pick that apart, with fairly good points brought up by Dowd and Dave. But I think the job tiers go Kentucky, then NC/UCLA/Kansas/Duke/Texas, then Indiana/Zona, then Louisville/Florida/OSU etc in some order. And Dowd's criteria (location, history, money, facilities, fanbase and perception) makes a ton of sense for this.

IU is a sleeping giant, because of their brand and proximity to great talent. Let's hope they stay sleeping for a while. UCLA is the exact same. Texas too, except they're richer than both combined. Louisville and Duke might be awful jobs, and could be made by the legends that succeeded there.

And finally, back to Shaka...let's pick apart Brad Stevens' resume just as much:

Inherited a really great team in 2007 (just came off a Sweet 16 appearance). Had at least 3 losses to bottom-feeder teams every year. He beat up on the Horizon League, which consisted of Butler and maaaaybe half of another good team every year (I know because I attended a TON of those games). Missed the tournament after making two straight title games, which means he took a break from the recruiting trail. Never won a recruiting battle against a Power 5 team. Left Butler when he saw a rough road for them after the A-10 to Big East transition.

Now, I only believe like 5% of that paragraph I just typed. But if you're looking for a high major coach, who has won several conference titles, and had consistent recruiting and tournament success...well, you're looking at K, Self, Izzo, Donovan, and a maybe two other guys. And none of them are looking for new jobs.

(And, for the record, Hoiberg is 100% gone to the NBA before the 2016-2017 season. He's has NBA experience, is well respected in the pros, and already runs an NBA offensive system. The Bulls and T-Wolves are the most likely candidates. And it looks like Donovan might bounce this summer too.)


Mike: IU really is a top job; I should have had them higher in my earlier email. The state of Indiana is so talent-rich, and like it or not, IU usually (90+% of the time) gets the first crack at any elite recruits within the state borders. IU recruits Indiana on "Easy"; all you have to do is make sure you don't piss off any aau or high school coaches (right, Tommy?). Which, as an aside, is why I'm so confused by Tom Crean's push to recruit the East Coast. I get reaching back there for a select recruit or two, but he's spending a lot of resources out there, in an area where IU doesn't have the same footholds that they already enjoy in the Midwest. On top of that, Bob Knight was smart in that he would fill IU's roster - the 10-13 spots on the bench - with local hero types from high schools in Southern Indiana. Now Crean is filling out his scholarship slots with guy from Richland Hills, TX? That makes zero sense to me.

The right guy at IU could not only recruit well, but any time IU shows any level of success, fans come out of the woodwork, the media in Indiana for the most part favors IU, and Fred Glass isn't exactly shy about pouring money into the basketball program (just check out Crean's recruiting budget). Oh yeah, and they're the type of school to be on the receiving end of a $40M private donation. I would lose my mind if a donation at that level happened at Purdue.


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