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Updated: March 25th, 2013 8:07pm
Buying out Smith's contract seen as an 'investment,' Gophers AD says

Buying out Smith's contract seen as an 'investment,' Gophers AD says

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- In the wake of their decision to fire men's basketball coach Tubby Smith, the Minnesota Gophers have to pay the 61-year-old coach a buyout of $2.5 million

That is a hefty sum for the athletic department to fork over, but Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague sees buying out Smith's contract as necessary in getting the basketball program headed in a better direction.

"Anytime you spend money for buyouts it bothers me, just like it would bother citizens of Minnesota," Teague said at a news conference held Monday to address Smith's firing. "But I hope our fans would look at this one as an investment rather than an expenditure. I don't take that lightly ... You have to consider that when making these decisions."

Smith, whom the Gophers severed ties with after six seasons, had his buyout bumped up by $1 million to its current state as part of the contact extension he signed in the summer of 2012.

In total, the amount owed to Smith surpasses $3 million when factoring in severance and retirement payments, plus the $150, 000 he earned for getting the Gophers to the Round of 32 last week.

When addressing the issue of where the money would come from, Teague said the payments would be allocated directly out of the athletic department's funds

Hired in 2007, Smith was expected to rejuvenate a program that was floundering after years ravaged by NCAA imposed sanctions and the failed tenure of former coach Dan Monson.

But Smith never truly succeeded in maintaining a solid level of success. His 124-81 overall record was marred by six seasons in which he failed to post better than a 9-9 Big Ten record.

The Gophers won their first NCAA tournament game of the Smith era, and first in 16 years, on Friday with a 83-63 thrashing of UCLA. But the victory stood as only the Gophers' sixth win in their last 18 games after they were bounced from the tournament by No. 3-seed Florida on Sunday in the Round of 32.

Teague's decision wasn't based solely on the Gophers' latest season, one in which the team fell far below the expectations they had garnered after a 15-1 start. Prior to Monday, he had spoken with University of Minnesota president Eric Kaler to discuss his intentions.

"It's an evaluation on the overall body of work and I evaluate throughout the year," Teague said. "But when it came down to the very end I consulted with Dr. Kaler and felt like it was time to move on."

After losing 78-64 to Florida on Sunday in Austin, Texas, Smith and the Gophers arrived back in the Twin Cities late that night. Teague was not at the game, having flown back to Minneapolis a day earlier to attend the women's hockey team's NCAA title game.

By Monday, Teague had called a meeting with Smith to tell him directly about the decision he had come to.

Rumors of Smith's firing started to circle early in the morning via Twitter and several message boards. CBS Sports' Jeff Goodman, who is known to be friendly with Teague and associate AD Mike Ellis, released an initial report about Smith's exit, citing an unnamed source.

However, Smith's agent, Ricky Lefft, told KSTP's Darren Wolfson that his client had not been informed of the firing until Teague called a meeting.

Teague gave a quick response to the question of how the situation transpired.

"Everything leaks. All the time," Teague said. "We know that. No one intentionally did that. Things leak and that's just the way it is."

Before stepping in front of the media, Teague held a meeting with the players to detail the program's future plans.

Teague remarked he had yet to directly contact any prospective coaching targets, but said he has an unspecified "short list" of candidates in mind. The Gophers are handling the hunt for a new coach without the assistance of a search firm.

Although Teague would not set a timetable for when he would like to have a coach in place, he said the process won't be dragged out.

"You want to move quickly and you want to hustle, but you don't want to be too much in a hurry," Teague said. "I don't want to put a time frame on it, but I want to get there as soon as we can."

Teague and his support staff will oversee the operations of the basketball program until a new coach is hired.

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell
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