Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Shaka Smart Staying at VCU

Upon leading the Rams of Virginia Commonwealth to their first Final Four appearance in school history it was widely believed that head coach Shaka Smart would be targeted by larger schools to fill their head coaching vacancies.  That belief came to fruition yesterday as it was reported by the Associated Press that Smart had been offered the head coaching job at North Carolina State to replace Sidney Lowe who resigned earlier in the year.

Instead of doing what so many other NCAA coaches do, build a reputation at a smaller school and then immediately leave for greener pastures as soon a possible, Smart decided to turn down NC State. Instead of leaving Smart decided to stay and late last night signed an 8-year contract extension with VCU.  According to a report by the Richmond Times-Dispatch the contract will pay Smart an annual base salary of $1.2 million with several bonus performance incentives (a big jump from the $325,000 salary he made this year).

In an interview with the AP Smart said, "I'm extremely grateful for the belief that [VCU president Michael Rao] and Norwood Teague [VCU Athletic Director] have shown and continue to show in our coaching staff and basketball program. Their support, in addition to the bright future that our student-athletes possess, makes VCU a very special place for me to be the head basketball coach. I'm very excited about the opportunities that lie ahead for both our program and our university."

It is extremely refreshing to see a coach stay with a "mid major" rather than leave for a more established program as too often there is zero loyalty shown.  Smart, who turns 34 on Friday, has only been a coach for 2 years now and I think one of the reasons he stayed was because VCU gave him a chance to be a head coach at such a young age. 

It is also being reported that VCU told Smart that they were going to make a bigger financial commitment to the basketball program and try and build off the success of this years team.  New facilities are already being planned as well as a greater portion of the athletics budget being allocated to the recruitment of better players.  When you factor that report in, along with the pay raise it makes Smart's decision to stay a lot more understandable.

In a statement made to the AP athletic Director Norwood Teague said, "True to form, Coach Smart's primary concerns were about his players, coaches and the overall support of the basketball program.  We are honored that he has decided to stay a VCU Ram. He exemplifies everything that is right about college athletics, and VCU is ecstatic about the future under his leadership."

Teague is not alone in his praise of Smart.  Throughout VCU's run to the Final Four Smart has been constantly praised by almost every analyst and reporter for the job he had done and his attitude during games and practices.  He seemed to have a genuine love for coaching and for his players and once the videos of him dancing with the team after victories and his participation in the "Ironman drill" during practice hit YouTube it was confirmed that he was the real deal.

Aside from Kemba Walker he may have been the star of the tournament as his profile grew and grew with each VCU victory.  I remember watching their first game and seeing him on the sideline in a polo thinking that he was the trainer and not the head coach.  Now he is one of the more well known names in college basketball and a sports celebrity.  Now is he wants to continue his success at VCU (55-21 in 2 seasons along with a CBI championship) he will need to parlay his new fame into a strong recruiting class for next year.

Despite Smart's success in this years March Madness tournament there are still a lot of things he needs to prove.  The most important is that he can recruit as the current VCU roster was recruited by former coach Anthony Grant (now head coach at Alabama).  Only time will tell is Smart will be successful but so far he has done a terrific job.

Random YouTube Video

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