clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Tubby Smith: 'I still have that fire in my belly'

MINNEAPOLIS — As Virginia Commonwealth's athletic director, Norwood Teague helped raise money for a new $10 million practice facility, saw the Rams reach the Final Four for the first time in program history and persuaded sought-after coach Shaka Smart to stay put.

That's a lot of success at a mid-major school, or any place for that matter. Well, Teague will have to keep up the hard work at Minnesota: There are plenty of men's basketball issues that need his attention.

First, there is the contract status of head coach Tubby Smith, who hasn't won an NCAA tournament game here and is 38-52 in the Big Ten over five seasons. Smith has two years remaining on his original deal, which pays him $1.8 million annually, and representatives for the school and Smith have not reached agreement on an extension, which was first broached after last season.

Then there is the lack of a specific practice facility.

"We're in the Big Ten, and we've got to have facilities that are Big Ten facilities," Teague said. "So in the next years to come, it's going to be important that we raise money."

This is an issue in Smith's contract talks, but it's also a factor in the direction of the program, which was ravaged by an academic fraud scandal in 1999 and hasn't been able to sustain any success since a Final Four appearance in 1997.

"We shouldn't be the last school in the Big Ten with a practice facility. If anything we should have been the first," Smith said Monday after Teague was introduced. "But I think he is a guy that can sell that dream. He's done it before."

The relationship between Teague and Smith will be critical for the future of the Gophers men's basketball, and Smith — who will turn 61 this year — was beaming about his new boss. Smith was an assistant coach at VCU from 1979-86, long before Teague arrived, but they've already met.

"I'm fired up. Let's put it that way," Smith said.

Smith said his contract extension was "pretty much done" and "right around the corner." President Eric Kaler preferred talks to be tabled until after the new athletic director arrived.

Smith's name has circulated through the college basketball rumor mill each March and April since he left Kentucky to take the job at Minnesota in 2007. Whether he was a legitimate candidate for or had sincere interest in any of the number of open jobs he's been mentioned for over the past few years, Smith came as close Monday as he ever has at Minnesota to putting those whispers of him leaving to rest.

"I certainly want to be wanted. I think every coach wants that," Smith said, adding: "One of the things that my wife and I decided awhile back when we made this move here that this was a move that we wanted to make it the last move in my career. I'm not getting any younger. But I still have that fire in my belly. I still have that drive to get things done."

Smith, of course, could get to the point where the Gophers no longer want him back. Even he has acknowledged that. So this will be a critical season for him and the program as Teague begins to put his stamp on the department.

"I'm very secure with who I am, and I am very secure with where I am in my career," Smith said. "I like where I am. I think the timing is perfect for Norwood."

Follow Dave Campbell on Twitter: