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VOL. 131 | NO. 77 | Monday, April 18, 2016

Tubby Smith's Hire Comes With 'Highest Expectations'

By Don Wade

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Wearing a University of Memphis lapel pin on his suit jacket, Tubby Smith was introduced on the floor of FedExForum Thursday, April 14, as the 18th head coach in Tigers history.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

University president M. David Rudd called it a “historic hire” for the school and said Smith arrived as the “most accomplished coach” to lead the program (take that, John Calipari).

“We have nothing but the highest expectations in the coming years,” Rudd said.

Those years number five and will pay Smith $15.45 million.

“As a university president, if you ask me would I like to spend less money, I’m always going to tell you, `Yes,’” Rudd said. “But the reality is, it is what we expected.”

Most recently Smith was the coach at Texas Tech, where he led the Red Raiders to their first NCAA Tournament in nine years and in just his third season. Texas Tech made a hard run to keep Smith, probably hiking the price Memphis ultimately had to pay.

Smith’s biggest achievement came in 1998 when he won a national title at Kentucky. In sum, with head coaching stops at Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota and Texas Tech, he has taken teams to 18 NCAA Tournaments. He even guided mid-major Tulsa to consecutive Sweet 16 appearances.

“I see a lot of potential,” Smith said of the Memphis basketball program, which missed the last two NCAAs under Josh Pastner (now coach at Georgia Tech); the Tigers at one point reached the tournament four straight years under Pastner but never got to the second weekend of the tourney.

“Sky’s the limit for this program,” Smith added. “And we want to take it to championship caliber.”

Perhaps 100 to 150 fans attended the press conference and sat in the stands behind one of the baskets. They applauded at various points, including when Smith said he would begin recruiting the next day and that “recruiting was paramount.”

Mayor Jim Strickland was on hand to note that he graduated from the U of M (twice), has season tickets, and to give Smith a key to the city, a key the mayor said “opens every door in Memphis for you.”

A recruiting key, if you want to think of it that way.

Smith, 64, said in a more informal meeting with media after the press conference that he had not yet talked to signee Charlie Moore, a four-star guard out of Chicago that is now said to be looking at other schools, but that the call was on the top of his list.

Meantime, Smith called forward Dedric Lawson, who announced he will return for his sophomore season after leading the team in scoring and rebounding, “impressive.”

Although Smith seemed a little foggy on how many open scholarships he has, he said he is ready to recruit.

“We’ll get involved with some of the best players in the country,” he said. “And we’ll do a fantastic job. The fire in the belly is there. I can recruit and fight with the best of them.”

While Smith offered no definitive answers about how he would fill out his staff here, he expressed a willingness to consider current staff members. Assistant Keelon Lawson, father of Dedric and K.J. Lawson, would seem a safe bet to return. Smith did mention current Texas Tech assistant Pooh Williamson and said he already had talked to him about joining his Memphis staff.

When asked about the possibility of former Tigers and NBA star and current East High School basketball coach Penny Hardaway being on his staff, Smith made no promises but said: “We’d love to talk to him.”

Memphis athletic director Tom Bowen described Smith as “a man of tremendous faith and tremendous character” and said he was the right fit.

Smith said he was first contacted by a search firm on Tuesday, April 12, and the process picked up from there. “A whirlwind,” he said.

Smith credited Memphis deputy athletic director Mark Alnutt with helping him through the process, saying, he went “back and forth” on the decision to come to Memphis.

“Mark Alnutt did a great job,” Smith said. “He could tell I was really concerned about (leaving Texas Tech). It was a tough thing to do.”

Cato Johnson, a senior vice president with Methodist Healthcare and a member of the university’s search committee, said when Smith’s name first came up he felt a level of comfort with Smith because of his long and successful history in the college game.

“You cannot debate his resume,” Johnson said. “You can’t debate his character, you can’t debate his achievements. And what really jumped out at me is he’s the Big 12 Coach of the Year and you’re coaching Texas Tech, a program that had not been to the NCAA Tournament (in almost a decade).

“He was successful at Tulsa. He was successful at Minnesota. Places where they didn’t have great facilities. Everybody I talk to in the basketball landscape says, `What you see is what you get.’ He knows Memphis, he’s recruited here, and you just get a great feeling that he belongs here.”

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