Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Kentucky Hired the Best Man

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Kentucky Hired the Best Man

Article excerpt

Tubby Smith was the best man for the job.

The University of Kentucky needed a brilliant, energetic, battle-tested men's basketball coach to replace the miraculous Rick Pitino. The school demanded a powerful recruiter, an outstanding tactician and a charismatic public speaker.

There are finicky Wildcat boosters to schmooze and extraordinary expectations to meet. Kentuckians figure it's their God-given right to have the best players, the best coach and the very best program in a savagely competitive sport. Fortunately, the perfect heir was just a phone call away. The guy Kentucky needed was committed to coaching and teaching. He spent six years at the high-school level before working his way up the collegiate coaching ladder. He assisted at Virginia Commonwealth and South Carolina before joining Pitino's UK staff from 1989-91. Not everybody can hang with Pitino, a maniac who demands maniacal assistance. Nobody outhustles his staff in pursuit of talent. Nobody works harder in practice. But Smith proved capable of handling a wholly unreasonable workload. With Pitino's blessing, he left to head the Tulsa program. He led the Golden Hurricane to a 79-43 record and two NCAA Tournaments before moving up to Georgia. There, he led the Bulldogs to two NCAA bids (they hadn't been to the Big Dance the five previous seasons) and a brilliant 45-19 mark. He was fast becoming Kentucky's most dangerous rival in the Southeastern Conference. It's no wonder Smith was the only guy Kentucky athletic director C.M. Newton considered to replace Pitino. Smith knew Kentucky and all the unreasonable pressures on the program. He had not only won in the rugged SEC, but done it with flair. He could work arena crowds and rally boosters. Blue-chip prep stars believed in hi m. He was an energetic guy (not as frenetic as Pitino, but who is?) who, at age 45, had plenty of upside to his career. He had the endorsement of Pitino, whose word remains golden in Kentucky. Pitino brought a national title, stayed longer than most exp ected and left only because the Boston Celtics stacked $50 million in front of his face. …

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