For the rest of us who aren't
living in the midst of
Here's what it looks like from the outside:
-- With 384 career victories entering this final weekend of SEC play, Smith ranked fifth all-time among all coaches in their first 16 seasons.
-- With a. 700 winning percentage in the NCAA Tournament, Smith ranks sixth among all active coaches.
-- In 10 seasons at
-- No SEC coach has won more
divisional titles. Former
-- Smith's regular-season titles
rank third all-time behind former
-- Smith's five SEC Tournament
titles are tied for second with Pitino and former
That's what we see.
Even during seasons when
While outsiders will point to
Smith's national championship and his SEC titles, the average
As for those SEC championships,
Wildcat fans don't need to look in a media guide to know Smith hasn't won the
SEC Tournament since 2004 -- which is practically ancient history for
While we see quality players who
would help most any SEC team,
Those looking in from a distance see a hard-nosed determined coach while devoted Wildcat fans wonder if Smith's stubborn refusal to change or adapt has sapped the joy and energy out of the program. They see the players playing hard, but not with energy and enthusiasm.
While it's easy to argue that many Kentucky fans are unrealistic in an age when the SEC has never been better top to bottom, those expectations are also partly responsible for making Kentucky basketball what it is.
Smith's status is the No. 1 topic
of interest in
The situation also has forced athletic director Mitch Barnhart and university president Lee T. Todd to address Smith's status publicly.
"Our fans' lofty expectations for this program, which I share, have not changed," Barnhart said in a statement released to the media. "However, history tells us that the college basketball season can change quite a bit between February and March. If the close games we've lost in February become victories during the tournaments, then this team has a chance to play up to its potential, which is what all of us as Wildcat fans want."
Not exactly a roaring declaration of support.
Todd's statement said, "I completely agree with Mitch Barnhart's comments on this situation. Our thinking is very much in synch about waiting until the end of the season before reviewing any program.
"We still have a lot of basketball to play. Always the optimist, I'm hopeful this team finds a way to play up to its potential and make a strong run in the tournaments and I hope our fans would support the players and coaches in that effort."
Both Barnhart and Todd must remain
cognizant of the fact that
Instead of forcing a decision by the university, perhaps Smith should initiate a parting of the ways. That's the opinion of Rich Bozich, a columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal who recently suggested in a column that the only happy ending to this complicated scenario is for Smith to move on to a job at another college job or the NBA.
As for Smith himself, what is he supposed to say publicly that could help the situation? How should he address his critics?
"Well, they're always out there,"
Smith said on a recent SEC teleconference. "The only way you can keep them away
is to win. Certainly losing four out of five doesn't help. But, you know, we've
played some tough teams.
Even outsiders can see that.
Did Saturday's 82-67 road win at
Maybe it should, but it probably wasn't enough according to media reports.
These things are simply not as easy
as they might seem from outside, but, like the
Critics points out that Heath entered the season with a 61-57 record, 24-40 in SEC games with only one NCAA Tournament appearance. Heath supporters will counter with the argument that Heath inherited a program that had fallen on hard times under former coach Nolan Richardson.
The critics would then come back with the opinion that things weren't as bad when Heath took over as Heath would like for people to believe and it's taken him too long to turn things around. Supporters would point to the fact that Heath's lone NCAA Tournament appearance came last year and the Razorbacks might have the SEC's best freshman in guard Patrick Beverley and could return as many as six of this season's juniors.
Somewhere in between the criticism
and the support, the Razorbacks are 18-12 and 7-9 in the SEC following
Saturday's victory at Vanderbilt. While Vanderbilt appears to be a lock for the
According to media reports, the
Razorbacks have suffered from a lack of team chemistry and tensions among
players have run high over the second half of the season, particularly after an
83-72 home loss to
Meanwhile, several media reports out of the state of Arkansas, led by the state's most influential newspaper the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, have reported that Heath will most likely be fired if the Razorbacks do not reach the NCAA Tournament.
Other sources who spoke to the Democrat-Gazette insist those reports are not accurate and that nothing will be decided until the season is over.
Athletic director Frank Broyles, who recently announced he will retire at the end of this calendar years, issued a statement that read, "As is our customary procedure, Coach Heath and the basketball program will be evaluated following the conclusion of the season. We have two regular-season games remaining as well as the SEC Tournament.
We continue to support Coach Heath and our team as they compete throughout the remainder of the season."
Then again, Broyles might not be making that decision because of his lame duck status. That decision could fall to Arkansas Chancellor John White, who is known to be one of Heath's primary supporters.
You can make an argument either way
for and against Heath, but the one thing White and Broyles will have to address
is the dwindling support among fans and boosters. Similar to the
After last week's 67-58 home win
"Nope. I'm letting you guys concentrate on that," Heath said. "One thing I learned a long time ago is you coach every game like it's your last game."
The calendar says spring starts later this month, but in many Southern states spring is already in bloom. The bluebirds are making nests, daffodils are peeking out, pear trees are budding and half the SEC is involved in spring practice.
In addition to LSU,
Ultimately, when you practice in the spring doesn't mean near as much as how you practice in the spring. With all the restrictions placed on spring practice in the past 20 years coaches are now hard pressed to make the most out of their limited time with players.
"For me, this is probably THE most exciting time of the year when you start really putting the team back together on the field," said Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, who has never started spring practice this early before. "It's a little bit shorter off-season program for us this year because of the way the schedule fell with Easter and spring break. There are a number of teams around the country that have started this week or will start next week and I'm eager to see how it works out. One of the consequences that come out of starting early, if you did have an injury you would have a chance to get a young man back perhaps before the season started. So some plusses and minuses. It does squeeze us just a little bit coming off of recruiting, but our coaches have done a good job of getting themselves ready for spring practice."
Even with the limited schedules, coaches still love spring practice. There are no games to prepare for, no games to win or lose, no games to interrupt their desire to teach, push, pull and provoke and see who will step up.
"Spring practice is about players, not necessarily plays. Who can play is what we're looking for, who can run, hit, catch, throw, cover and do those kinds of things," Fulmer said. "Also, spring practice is about toughness and about finding those guys who have that innate toughness -- regardless of the position they play -- that can mark a good football player. Who can be special, some dynamics, finding guys that can help you that way and then also what role they are going to play. There are a number of players, especially young players, that need to find their place and need to find their role on this football team. So it's a very, very important time."
Richard Scott is a Birmingham based sports writer, author and featured columnist in Tiger Rag. Reach him at email@example.com.