I have written many times that Kentucky basketball fans are the best in the country. No school can count on more passion or commitment than Big Blue. They find a way into every opponents building and show up in huge numbers at all tournaments. Of course, we see the same with Alabama football fans, and that’s not the end to the similarities.
Both programs have a long-held belief that they should DOMINATE the SEC and constantly contend nationally. There was a time when that was possible, but that time has passed. There are too many prospects, too many schools with first class facilities and too many talented coaches for anyone to dominate the SEC.
Steve Spurrier won four straight SEC titles from 1993 through 96. Since then the conference title has been passed around like a hot potato with only Tennessee (’98) repeating as a champ in the last ten seasons. Kentucky won five of seven SEC titles from 1995 through 2001 with three of those on Tubby Smith’s watch. However in the last six seasons Kentucky has ONLY won twice. I fact, in the last 20 years there has been only one team to win the SEC regular season title outright in consecutive seasons (Kentucky 1995-96).
Tubby Smith posted an average record of 26-and-8 in his ten year in Lexington, but there was little if any joy in those accomplishments. You might forget that Kentucky lost a Regional Final in double overtime just two years ago. Tubby Smith’s teams won five of ten SEC Tournament titles as well.
Yet it was never enough, so Tubby Smith is on his way to Minnesota.
Minnesota? I admit I was stunned by the news that Smith had decided to take on the tainted program up north. He could have easily accepted a buyout and sat out for a year waiting for a better job. Instead, Tubby Smith is taking on a significant challenge at a place where every win will be cause for celebration. He’ll start having a lot more fun, that’s for sure.
Toughest Job in America
So now Kentucky has to find a coach with an incredibly thick hide. They need a man who can not only win on the court, but ignore what swirls around him off the court. Kentucky also needs a guy who can put on the personality when needed as Smith’s predecessor Rick Pitino did so effectively.
There is a faction in Lexington that will want to come hard after Billy Donovan, but to me that’s nuts. Donovan has been in Gainesville more than twice as long as he served on Pitino’s staff in Kentucky. Plus there may not be a coach in American that Billy Donovan likes and respects more than his friend Tubby Smith. It is bizarre to think that Donovan would be receptive to taking a job that made his friend so miserable that he left for a place where hockey is bigger than hoops.
No, Kentucky needs to turn its focus to a guy who has proven he can win big on the college level, has developed toughness from a tour of duty in the NBA and has the personality to recruit top talent and charm to unite the faithful.
Mr. Calipari, you have a call on line two.