Marquette made a great move to hire Shaka Smart as a coach, but what he did when he left Texas was sheer genius.


Voluntarily leaving the coaching position in Texas to become a coach at Marquette, on a superficial level, doesn’t make much sense considering that the UT job is the best job and is actually considered one of the best jobs in college basketball because of its incredible resources. and natural recruitment base. So some were surprised on Friday morning when Shaka Smart agreed in principle to become the next Golden Eagles coach.

But, as always, context matters.

That’s why it’s hard to intelligently argue that Smart didn’t make a smart move when he left Texas for Marquette just six days after losing to Abilene Christian in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. And yes, those two developments are almost certainly connected.

Emergency Podcast: Reaction to Shaka Smart’s Move from Texas to Marquette.

Smart led the Longhorns to a 19-8 record this season. They finished tied for third in the Big 12. They won the Big 12 Tournament. They secured a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It was a good season.

But it ended badly, with a 53-52 loss to Abilene Christian.

Consequently, Texas fans quickly returned to where they were heading this season – that is, waiting for the day they could get past Smart, whose six years in the Big 12 were ups and downs and lacking a single NCAA. Tournament victory. The good news is he drafted well, made three of his last five NCAA Tournaments despite losing his leading scorer mid-season twice, and finished tied for third in the league standings each of the two. last years. The downside is that terrible loss to Abilene Christian that left Smart 0-3 in the NCAA Tournament since he replaced Rick Barnes.

Was Smart about to be fired?

No, they told me.

But there’s no denying that he would have entered next season, his seventh season, with real job pressure in Texas and as the face of literally every hot seat chart. Could it have come out of those circumstances? Maybe. But I’ve long believed, and said, that once a coach gets into the hot seat, he never really gets up because it’s usually just one more bad season to get hit almost no matter what happens between now and then.

Tom Crean in Indiana is a great example.

Crean entered the 2015-16 season on everyone’s hot seat list and therefore needed a good season to keep his job. He responded by winning his second overall Big Ten title and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. So he kept his job. But the following season, he was 18-16 and finished tied for 10th in the Big Ten. Then he lost his job. And it didn’t matter that he had just won an overall Big Ten title a year earlier, or that future NBA player OG Anunoby was limited to just 16 games due to injury. By this time, Indiana fans had stopped believing in Crean. So his next bad season was always going to be his last. And went.

Shaka Smart was in a similar situation in Texas.

He could have coached the Longhorns next season, had he wanted to. But when you’re choosing between a win or get fired situation in Texas, where the fans have turned against you, or a great job in Big East with wonderful facilities and tradition, in a fabulous city with a new set of expectations, honestly, it is not a difficult decision from a quality of life and career preservation perspective.

Whether this turns out to be a good thing for Texas will ultimately depend on what Texas does next, specifically whether the school can attract Chris Beard from Texas Tech or someone equally great. But I don’t think there is any doubt that Marquette did as well as he could replace Steve Wojciechowski.

The Golden Eagles are hiring a 43-year-old former Final Four coach who has led his team, first at VCU, then Texas, to eight of the last 10 NCAA tournaments while establishing himself as a major player on the road. recruitment. So, I think Marquette made a really smart move here.

But what Shaka Smart just did is even smarter.



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