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Smith leaves Kentucky (cont.)

Posted: Thursday March 22, 2007 3:59PM; Updated: Thursday March 22, 2007 8:57PM
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Even so, former Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall said he was surprised by news of Smith's sudden departure.

"I think Tubby Smith is not just a good coach, he's a great coach," Hall said. "He's had a couple years where the critics soured. It's pretty tough when you hear some of that."

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Smith received a $1.5 million loyalty bonus at the end of the season, Stricklin said. He had four years left on his contract and is trading one tenuous situation for another.

The Gophers have plummeted from a program that once was annually competitive in the Big Ten to a perennial doormat under Monson, who was handcuffed by severe NCAA sanctions after a massive academic fraud scandal rocked the school.

Clem Haskins presided over that period, which resulted in the Gophers' 1997 Final Four appearance being wiped from the books, and Monson struggled mightily with recruiting and was never able to rehabilitate the team. He finished with a 118-106 record in eight seasons.

Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi knew he needed to hire a big name to revive the dormant program and was considering Detroit Pistons coach and Gopher alum Flip Saunders among other candidates.

"I'm just relieved so I don't have to answer the questions anymore," Saunders said before the Pistons played the Rockets. "Tubby's a proven winner. He's a great communicator. For Minnesota, it's going to be great for them."

In Smith, Maturi has found a coach with a proven track record, including 14 straight 20-win seasons spanning his tenures at Tulsa, Georgia and Kentucky, where he won five SEC titles, five SEC tournament titles, and had a 263-83 record.

Barnhart said he will immediately start an "exhaustive, comprehensive and focused" search for the next coach.

"Kentucky holds a special place in college basketball," Barnhart said. "We have the best facilities and tradition in the sport, but most importantly, UK has a fan base which for decades has committed immense financial and emotional resources into Wildcat basketball. It truly is the Big Blue Nation, and it is what sets the University of Kentucky's basketball program apart from every other school.

"I'm confident we can find the right person to embrace this tradition and lead Kentucky basketball into the future."

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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