The Minnesota Golden Gophers signed men’s head basketball coach, Orlando “Tubby” Smith to a three year extension this week. The substance of that extension is a bit curious because it did not include a raise in his annual salary. In fact, it did not even include a raise for inflation. And that might be telling.
Considering Tubby’s teams have only advanced to the Big Dance twice, and never past the first round, this extension has been met with a mixed reception. When you consider that the Gophers are 38-52 in Big 10 play under Orlando’s guidance, that mixed reception is understandable. At best, under Tubby’s watch, the Gophers have been a feisty, Tier 3 squad capable of an upset every now and again (think the Hoosiers last year), at worst, they have been the conference doormat.
Now, with nearly $2 million in the bank for the next four years, the mediocrity needs to end.
And let me stop you right now, I get it, the U’s practice facility makes the Hoosier Gym (the classic movie) look like a state of the art facility. The flip side to that is Williams Arena, one of the more historic (read old) arenas in the nation and practically sells itself in terms of atmosphere. This is even more true when the teams are competitive. Plus, the Big 10 offers a pretty rich basketball history, recruiting here should not be THAT hard.
Tubby is tasked with coaching up his most talented squad to date. He has super-duper senior Trevor Mbakwe returning off knee surgery, fantastic frosh Eliot Eliason, and pre-season All-Big 10 Rodney Williams up front. Add to that the Hollins brothers (just jokes – not related) and Maverick Ahmnisi in the back court, Tubby’s boys should challenge for the Big 10 title. If they fail to make any noise, the season will definitely be considered a failure.
Remember, Tubby’s hiring was seen as a dual-purpose move. The boosters and those in the know raved about how, not only would Tubby’s arrival mean wins in the short-term, the long-term impact was that it would change the culture of the fan base. We would no longer be satisfied with a nice little season where the squad makes it to the Dance or makes a nice little run in the NIT.
Could you imagine what Kentucky fans would do if they made the NIT? Rupp Arena would get burned to the ground. Those kind of results are not acceptable. Gophers fans, while not thrilled about scoring an NIT invite, do not threaten to revolt. Instead, Williams Arena is alway full for the following years’ slate of home games. Tubby was supposed to change that. His presence was supposed to set making the Dance the floor for a successful season.
That change has not happened yet. The floor is still undetermined. Though, it might be coming. This year’s season will tell us a lot as to whether Orlando’s extension was money well spent. I, for one, am excited to find out.