Smith leaves Kentucky for Minnesota
Posted: Thursday March 22, 2007 3:59PM; Updated: Thursday March 22, 2007 8:57PM
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- With Kentucky fans dogging him after another disappointing finish, Tubby Smith is bolting the bluegrass for Minnesota.
Smith will be introduced as the Golden Gophers' 16th coach at a noon press conference Friday, ending a 10-year tenure in Lexington that seemed to be in its final days even before Minnesota contacted him. SI.com's Seth Davis was the first to report the story.
The Wildcats went 22-12 this season and made it to the NCAA tournament but lost to top-seeded Kansas in the second round, turning up the heat on the coach of college basketball's winningest program.
Smith led Kentucky to the national championship in his first season in 1998, but the Wildcats haven't been back to the Final Four since, their longest drought since the NCAA tournament began. The team has lost 10 or more games in a season five times under his watch, prompting the demanding fan base to nickname him "10-loss Tubby."
"On behalf of the University of Kentucky, I'd like to express sincere appreciation to Tubby Smith, his family and his staff," Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. "We wish him the very best at the University of Minnesota. They are getting a solid coach and a great person."
Minnesota was 9-22 this season, the most losses in the 111-year history of the program, and averaged just 60.6 points a game, its lowest in 56 years. Former coach Dan Monson was forced to resign seven games into this season.
Thursday morning, Minnesota asked for Barnhart's permission to talk to Smith, said Kentucky basketball spokesman Scott Stricklin. Smith arrived in the Twin Cities on Thursday evening to take the job.
"Ever since my senior year of high school, there was always speculation that he'd be gone," said Houston Rocket Chuck Hayes, who played for Smith at Kentucky from 2001-05. "After every season, there were always rumors. I thought it was just rumors again this year, people talking."
Smith never was able live up to the standard set by the man he replaced at Kentucky. Rick Pitino became a legend in Lexington, leading the Wildcats to three Final Fours, including the 1996 national title and the 1997 championship game, before leaving to coach the Boston Celtics.
Wildcats fans grew even more restless when Pitino returned to the state of Kentucky, leading rival Louisville to the 2005 Final Four.
"He would probably be the only guy in the nation who could keep those fans happy," Hayes said of Pitino. "Him and [Adolph] Rupp."
The criticism ramped up this season when the proud program struggled against top competition, losing handily to Memphis, North Carolina and Florida. Smith entered the tournament on shaky ground, and his status wasn't helped when the Wildcats failed to make it out of the first weekend for the third time in four seasons.
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