Tubby Smith says he’s ’very happy’ at Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS — After taking Minnesota to the NCAA tournament in his second year at the school, Tubby Smith says he plans to coach the Gophers next season too.
Because he’s at a program not among the nation’s most prominent, Smith’s high profile and successful past naturally push his name through the rumor mill when there’s a vacancy with another major conference team. The recent resignation of Dave Leitao at Virginia prompted speculation the Cavaliers would pursue Smith, who was raised in Maryland and has family in the area.
But Smith said in a phone interview Monday he’s happy at Minnesota, pleased with the direction of the program, and focused on the future. He praised university president Robert Bruininks and director of athletics Joel Maturi for their commitment.
"That’s all you can really ask for, in most jobs and in most situations," Smith said. "That’s better than a lot of situations where there’s change in administration and turmoil. There’s been a lot of consistency and continuity here over the years."
The Gophers lost to Texas in the first round and finished 22-11 after making the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005. It was also their only their second appearance in 10 years. They lose two seniors, both reserves, and have a well-regarded recruiting class featuring Twin Cities natives Royce White and Rodney Williams arriving in the fall.
"We set the bar. The bar is moving to another level," Smith said. "I don’t expect anything but the best from these guys. My expectations are to be here as the coach of the University of Minnesota."
Like most coaches at major colleges, Smith has skipped around, from Tulsa to Georgia to Kentucky and now here. It’s not a given that he’ll retire with the Gophers, of course.
"I’m never sure about anything," he said. "You never say never to anything."
It’s not as though Smith believed he could escape the spotlight by moving north. Being favored for other jobs can be a distraction, but "it beats the alternative," he said. "They’re just what they are: rumors. People are going to write what they write, and I can’t do much about that."
Maturi, speaking from Indiana where the women’s team was between NCAA tournament games Monday, said he’s certain Smith has been contacted more than once about openings at other places since he was hired here two years ago.
"There’s no question in my mind he’s one of the top coaches in America," Maturi said. "I don’t think anybody debates that. I think some people are surprised that he’s at Minnesota. What they don’t realize is he’s happy at Minnesota. I think he’s excited about the future. He loves the community. The community loves him. ... I think he realizes he can win at Minnesota."
Smith has asked for a practice facility on campus to supplement Williams Arena, which is shared by the men’s and women’s teams. Maturi promised him the university would begin to ask donors for help toward the project once fundraising was complete for the new football stadium, which opens this fall. Maturi declined to put a timetable on the process, but said the goal is to build the facility adjacent to the existing arena.
"I suspect in the next couple of months we will seriously begin looking," Maturi said.