BOZICH | Can Tubby Smith ride Memphis job into Basketball Hall o - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Can Tubby Smith ride Memphis job into Basketball Hall of Fame?

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Tubby Smith will try to make history at Memphis. Tubby Smith will try to make history at Memphis.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – All the debate about the jarring decision by Memphis to hire Tubby Smith as its new basketball coach stalled on the same questions:

Was Smith the best pick for the job?

Will Smith be able to recruit the best local players as well the occasional Top 100 national guys?

Will Memphis fans fill their NBA arena to watch Smith's defense-first style?

Then there is the issue of the birth certificate. Smith will be 65 on June 30. Does he still have the juice to drive Memphis back into the Top 25?

Those questions can be tightened into one: Is Tubby the right guy for Memphis?

It's a better hire than Georgia Tech taking Josh Pastner.

But actually, this question is more intriguing to me: Is Memphis the right place for Tubby?

If it is, Tubby Smith can glide directly from Beal Street to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

His resume already deserves serious consideration. One nice run at Memphis and it should be time for Tubby Smith to take his place with Nolan Richardson, Guy Lewis, Gary Williams, John Chaney, Lute Olson and John Thompson in Springfield, Mass.

I mention those half-dozen coaches because Smith can stack his credentials next to all six of those Hall of Famers without blushing.

He's won as many Division I national titles as Thompson, Williams, Richardson and Olson and one more than Chaney or Lewis.

His career winning percentage (.669) is better than Williams and nearly equal to Chaney (.671). Smith has done solid work, without embarrassing any program, from the moment he left Rick Pitino's first staff at Kentucky to become the head coach at Tulsa in 1991 and went 17-13.

Smith's detractors at Kentucky tagged him as "Ten Loss Tubby." You heard it every March. But a more accurate nickname would be "Twenty Win Tubby," because the man has won at least 20 games in 19 of his 25 college seasons.

Then there is the credential Smith can achieve that will separate him from the world:

If he takes the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament, Smith becomes the first coach to make the tournament at six schools.

"He'll do that," said local radio host Jerry Eaves, a former Division I coach and player. "That would just be another feather in his cap. I like the move."

I can't think of another coach who followed the same career arc as Smith. He coached up Tulsa to two NCAA Tournament trips in four seasons. Did the same at Georgia, going two-for-two on NCAA trips.

At Kentucky, Smith started spectacularly, winning an NCAA title during his first season in 1998.

You remember the rest of the story. His next nine UK teams were all ranked. Three advanced to the Elite Eight. But no more Final Fours. Recruiting stalled. By 2007 it was time for a change -- for UK and for Smith -- in Lexington.

Rather than make changes to his staff, Smith made a change to his address, taking the Minnesota job.

Gophers' fans will argue that Smith's work was merely ordinary in the Twin Cities because all six of his teams lost at least 11 games. That's not spectacular, but it looks considerably better than the record Richard Pitino has delivered the last three seasons.

Smith put himself back in the national conversation this season at Texas Tech, ending back-to-back losing seasons with a team that finished 19-13 and made the NCAA Tournament. No wonder Smith's contemporaries voted him Big 12 Coach of the Year. Winning and recruiting in Lubbock is not Easy Street.

But Smith has never looked for the easy way. Not in 1991. Not now.

At a time when most coaches are heading for the golf course, Smith can make the Hall of Fame take a serious look at his serious credentials.

He's a deserving coach – and person.

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