Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart were the coaches in one of the most unlikely Final Four matchups you’ll ever see in 2011 when No. 8 seed Butler faced No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth in a national semifinal.
It once seemed they might be at least long-tenured at their schools, if not complete lifers, when both were consistently spurning numerous job offers despite repeated opportunities to move on to bigger (paying) things. A couple years later, though, both are gone now to new challenges.
The lure of those new challenges, or money, or both, eventually became too much to resist. First it was Stevens going to the NBA’s Boston Celtics, and now the big coaching news reported by multiple sources Thursday night was that Smart is on his way to Texas.
As much as Smart had built arguably the most distinctive style in college basketball and had grown synonymous with VCU and “Havoc,” it really shouldn’t be a surprise. Situations like Smart’s are starting to look familiar.
For those who follow college football, this looks a lot like another coach very similar to Smart who also recently finally made a move after a number of years being content at his former place, despite repeated opportunities to move on.
Former Boise State coach Chris Petersen once looked destined to stay at his job forever, too. Petersen won consistently every year, was able to build and maintain a program his way in a relatively low-pressure environment, was adored by fans, and was compensated very handsomely, if not necessarily as much as he could’ve been at other schools.
Eventually, though, the hint of staleness hit Boise State. No matter how many big games or top-level bowls they won, the Broncos continued to deal with college football politics. Four losses in three years only equaled three trips to the Las Vegas Bowl. Then, BSU went 8-4 in 2012. Whether weary of the constant battles Boise always had/has to fight or just ready for something different, at that point, it wasn’t surprising when Petersen decided it was time for a change, and at a Washington program that is loaded with resources.
VCU wasn’t going stale under Smart, but the program has not been able to back up its Final Four berth, despite growing its national profile considerably. The Rams won single NCAA tourney games in 2012 and 2013, but exited in the first round the last two years. Both of those campaigns were not easy, with VCU highly ranked in the preseason but struggling at times throughout both seasons. There were still 20+ win seasons and conference titles, but already some were (wrongly) perceiving the Rams as a one-hit wonder.
The story goes that things can change, and very quickly, even for those who are extremely happy at their jobs. And when high-paying suitors are always lurking, it truly is a matter of timing as to when a coach might take a new position.
In the case of Texas, Smart is going to a school that will never lack financially. He’s also going to a school where football will always be first, but also a place with an athletic director-Steve Patterson-who, shall we say, has not always been described in glowing terms, and who went back on his word to previous coach Rick Barnes that he would be returning next year. Even with more money, there are sacrifices, and one just hopes steady administrative support is not one of the things Smart has given up with this move.
- Stanford won the NIT title for the second time in four years, defeating Miami (Fla.) 66-64 in overtime in the championship game last night. Chasson Randle finished his career in style with 25 points, including numerous key baskets at the end of regulation, as well as two free throws after being fouled with 3.4 seconds left in overtime. The Cardinal are hardly the most impressive NIT champion ever-three wins at home, followed by semifinal and final wins that both were not particularly attractive, but it takes far more than luck to win five straight games against solid teams, and it’s a good finish for a team that was rather middling much of the regular season. Miami also put together a very nice run in the tourney, rallying from double-digit deficits in the quarterfinals and semifinals and nearly doing it again last night, despite missing two starters-Angel Rodriguez and Tonye Jekiri-due to injury.
- Also, the ESPN broadcast of the game last night was the final one for Bob Knight, who it was reported will not have his contract renewed with the network. This is almost certainly a minority view, but will really miss Knight as an analyst. Don’t care one bit if he wasn’t the most polished, as his knowledge and breakdown of fundamentals always was second to none. Watching him and Fran Fraschilla work each of the NIT games was like receiving a two-hour coaching clinic, absolutely fantastic to learn from.
- Missouri Valley Conference schools completed a sweep of the CBI and CIT, as Evansville won the CIT title. The Purple Aces closed the game on a 20-9 run to defeat Northern Arizona 71-65, with Egidijus Mockevicius unstoppable inside with 27 points and 11 rebounds. It’s the cap to a terrific postseason performance for the MVC, which finished 14-3 overall, the best winning percentage of any conference. Good to see for Evansville’s Marty Simmons, too, a teacher of true motion offense who has survived some tough years but has rewarded administration for its patience with his best year yet.
- Surprising news at Bowling Green, where Chris Jans has been fired after one year coaching the Falcons. Jans was terminated for alleged drunken behavior two weeks ago that included a confrontation with patrons at a local bar, including some actions on video. While not condoning the behavior, this is hardly the first-ever incident of a coach being inebriated. A severe reprimand would’ve seemed to be a perfectly fair punishment if this was a first offense, but if this is consistent with the school’s policy and past actions in similar instances with its personnel then so be it. It does go without saying again that we live in a world now where anything one does in public can be caught on camera, and any professional-much less a high-profile coach-needs to be aware of that. Few understood this year just what a turnaround Jans orchestrated at BG, where he took the Falcons from 12-20 last year to 21-12 in his first year.
- Stayings and goings: Florida’s Dorian Finney-Smith is returning for his senior season. The 6-foot-7 forward averaged 13.1 points and 6.2 rebounds last year. Syracuse forward Chris McCullough is going to the NBA Draft. Interesting, as the freshman announced not long ago that he was returning for his sophomore year. McCullough missed the second half of the season with an ACL injury. Also, tough news for Villanova as Dylan Ennis is going to transfer for his senior year upon graduation. Yet another player who will take care of the automatic waiver allowing graduates to play right away at their next school. It would be one thing if these graduates were transferring for academic reasons, but in almost every case they are not. This is a problem.
- Speaking of the Missouri Valley Conference above, the MVC and Mountain West have revived their challenge series for the 2015 season. A good move for both leagues, and the schedule for next year has already been released. The highlight may well be Illinois State going to face San Diego State on Nov. 13, while Colorado State also will play at Northern Iowa.
All is quiet on the eve of the Final Four.
Wishing all well today on Good Friday.