Tubby Smith was a terrific basketball coach and wonderful man for all the charitable work he did throughout the Lexington community.
He won basketball games — 26 per year for 10 seasons and 76 percent of his games overall at Kentucky. He kept players basically out of trouble and emphasized academics as much as any Division I basketball coach can.
Bottom line, he was a good guy. However, that doesn't mean some of the criticism directed at Smith and his program the last two years was unfair.
Kentucky fans are being labeled as "wacky" for pressuring Smith into leaving for Minnesota. But the fans didn't make Smith left. Smith's record made Smith leave.
He lost 25 games the last two seasons. He finished fourth in the SEC Eastern Division this year. He won just one NCAA Tournament game the last two years.
And guess what? It could well be worse next year — and that would have not mattered if Smith had stayed. Maybe Smith would have signed highly-touted recruits Jai Lucas and Patrick Patterson to revitalize the program. But there was no guarantee he was going to do that and the new coach certainly will be facing long odds if he hopes to sign either player.
Randolph Morris was going to leave. How could he turn down that money any more than Smith couldn't say no to Minnesota's offer of $1.8 million per year for seven seasons (and a $1.5 million bonus) from Kentucky? But Morris' departure leaves UK with no proven center and problems at both power forward and small forward. That's not a formula for success in the SEC.
Smith's recruiting had slipped. The talent level at Kentucky was down. SEC coaches wouldn't say so publicly, but privately many of them wondered what had happened and why UK was struggling to recruit top players.
Smith said he felt "wanted" at Minnesota, an obvious reference to not feeling wanted at UK. However, he got over $2 million per year at Kentucky and had a rare contract without a buyout clause. To me, that's more than enough love — even without the $1.5 million longevity bonus.
Certainly fans put high expectations on Smith. But how is that new? Ask Joe Hall, Eddie Sutton or Rick Pitino if they were expected to win. Didn't Ole Miss fire Smith's friend, Rod Barnes, for not winning? Didn't Minnesota fire its coach seven games into last season for not winning enough?
Talk to Rich Brooks about fan pressure. Midway of last season, more UK fans wanted him gone than ever called for Smith's departure. Brooks took the criticism, kept working and went to a bowl game. But he knows a lousy season this year would put the heat back on him.
Smith did plenty for UK basketball. He won a national championship and had UK in the chase for at least three more during his tenure. However, it was not a one-way street. He was well paid at Kentucky and enjoyed a lifestyle that was not all that bad.
Miss Tubby Smith all you want. Compliment the job he did all you want. Just don't ask me to feel sorry for the pressure Smith felt. He knew that was part of the job when he came.
Here's hoping Smith does well at Minnesota. Here's hoping he can win the Big Ten and make the Gophers a championship contender. However, he let the UK program slip the last two years and if going to Minnesota was the only way to make him feel happy and re-energized as he suggested Friday, then he made the best move both for him and Kentucky.