May 15, 2007
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - When Tubby Smith left Kentucky for Minnesota in March, he traded basketball royalty for a program in ruin.
Less than two months into the job, he likes what he sees.
"I'm impressed with, No. 1, the level of support - from facilities to Joel Maturi, from the president, Dr. Bruininks, we have everything in place to be successful," Smith said Tuesday after a news conference touting the launch of the new Big Ten Network. "I think we've had to upgrade some areas and we're in the process of doing that. But it all starts with the person at the top. The face of this program is important to us, and we have to surround ourselves with the type of players we recruit."
Smith has been a busy man since he was all but shoved out of town by Kentucky's demanding fan base in March, only to arrive to a hero's welcome in Minneapolis.
He is charged with turning around a Gophers program that collapsed under the weight of an academic fraud scandal during Clem Haskins' regime, followed by seven years of mediocrity with Dan Monson at the helm.
Smith has spent the past two months assessing the program, recruiting players and making various public appearances in an effort to breathe life into a dormant program.
"Gopher basketball has been pretty sound," Smith said. "There's been some slippage, but you go through cycles. One of the reasons I came here was because I see the potential in Minnesota basketball and what it means to so many people. There's a lot to sell."
On the court, that's a different story. The Gophers went 9-22 last season, 3-13 in the Big Ten.
Smith brings instant credibility to a program that had none when it came to recruits. All he has to do is wear that national championship ring, and he's got a high school player's attention.
"It's been excellent," Smith said of the reception he's gotten from recruits. "It's been very encouraging, very positive.
"We've had local coaches, local players and others calling. You can really gauge that by the number of unofficial visits people make that want to come and see what Minnesota is all about, and see how we're going to go about it and share the vision of our plan to make Minnesota a national power, and not just a Big Ten power."
The Big Ten Network will only help Smith's cause. Starting with the football season in the fall, the network will televise conference competition - including football, basketball and Olympic sports - across the country.
Smith said the network is "something we hope to partnership and piggyback on in selling this new staff, new regime, and new direction to Gopher basketball with us coming here."
He is still working on finalizing his coaching staff, setting the schedule and finding a place to live, but he called the transition to Minnesota "smooth."
Maturi, the director of athletics, is still getting pats on the back for the hire.
"I call him a rock star, and I don't know if that's the right or appropriate description," Maturi said. "But I don't mean just here in the cities, but every place I go. People I know and people that I know in the business say, 'How in the world did you get Tubby Smith to Minnesota?' And they question that in a positive way because they're all shocked that it happened."
The move will help the upstart Big Ten Network, president Mark Silverman said.
"When they hired Tubby Smith, we were celebrating," Silverman said. "Somebody the level of Tubby Smith brings fantastic benefits to the school and to the network because fans want to tune in to see him."
Smith's resume includes a national championship, five SEC championships and 14 straight 20-win seasons spanning his tenures at Tulsa, Georgia and Kentucky, a pattern of success that has energized Minnesota's disillusioned fans.
"There are a lot of Gopher fans that are excited about us coming here and they are absolutely ecstatic about helping in any way possible," Smith said. "I told them the best thing they can do is get the package, get their ticket, because it might not be available to them, so I don't want them complaining when they can't find a seat."