For a variety of reasons, rumors of Tubby Smith's imminent departure from Minnesota seem to dog the coach every offseason. Sometimes the rumors are based in truth. (Oregon was very interested in Smith's services last summer.) Sometimes the rumors are just that -- rumors. Either way, each new March, April and May seems to bring with it the renewed notion that Smith's coaching eye is wandering outside the Twin Cities. Like Groundhog Day and a mid-March Chicago snowfall (ugh), this too has become a rite of spring.
Naturally, this season is no different. Smith has been obviously frustrated with his injury-depleted Gophers, and for good reason: After Sunday's home loss to Penn State, Minnesota finished regular season play with a 1-9 mark in its final 10 games, a slide that made it 6-12 in the Big Ten and 17-13 overall. That brutal stretch was caused in large part by a season-ending injury to Al Nolen and the midseason transfer of former starting guard Devoe Joseph; thanks to those absences, Smith has been forced to use sharpshooter Blake Hoffarber at the point guard spot for much of the past month, and you don't have to watch the Gophers as religiously as the father-in-law in "Fargo" to know Hoffarber at the point is a less-than-ideal lineup configuration. Thanks to that dropoff, Minnesota is almost certain to miss the tournament, something Smith told his team -- and the media -- Feb. 27.
Clearly, the frustration is there. But does Tubby really want to leave? Will Georgia Tech really buy out Paul Hewitt's contract in an effort to hire Smith, as our own Doug Gottlieb alluded to recently? Will Gophers brass be hunting for a new coach again this spring?
According to the man himself: no. Not at all. Why? Because Smith's wife says so. From Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Sid Hartman:
And Smith rejected the ESPN rumor that Georgia Tech was going to buy out coach Paul Hewitt's contract and hire Smith by saying: "Why would I be interested in that job? I'm not going anywhere. My wife likes it here, I like it here, and I'm going to finish my career here."
That's about as unequivocal as rumor-killing statements get, isn't it? Smith didn't hedge. He give a "I am the coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, and right now that's what I'm focused on," or some similar non-denial-denial. Smith is saying, in very clear terms, that he is "going to finish his career" in Minneapolis. It's hard to wiggle out of something like that.
Of course, we've heard coaches say one thing about their job and do another a few weeks later. Smith could still very well be on the job market. But if he leaves now, the disappointed fan base he leaves behind would have good reason to refer to Smith in the same unfavorable terms as Bobby Petrino and Nick Saban, and nobody wants to be like those guys, right?
Hartman details some of the reasons Smith might stay, which include a solid incoming recruiting class, the loss of only two seniors (Blake Hoffarber and Al Nolen) this season, the emergence of freshman both used and unused this season (especially freshman guard Chip Armelin, an athletic but raw combo guard who probably would have gotten the starting nod in Nolen's departure had he more experience running Smith's offense) and the likely return of star forward Trevor Mbakwe, who, according to Hartman, apparently believes (as Smith does) that he needs another year to refine his game before turning pro.
In other words, the personnel situation isn't dire. Yes, Smith has been frustrated. But Gophers fans can take a sigh of relief, in so far as they believe one is warranted. According to the man himself, their head coach isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
(Update: The Star-Trib's Myron P. Metcalf is reporting today that, according to Smith's attorney Ricky Lefft, Smith will "absolutely" sign an extension at Minnesota prior to the 2011-12 season.)