'First-class' Tubby Smith becomes highest-paid Texas Tech hoops coach
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LUBBOCK, Texas -- Tubby Smith's time at Texas Tech has begun. And he says he will fit in just fine in West Texas, where cowboy hats and cowboy boots are more prominent than other many other places he's coached.
"I already have some," Smith said of his cowboy boots. "I just didn't bring them with me."
Texas Tech is counting on Smith to bring the same touch he's used to revive other programs. Texas Tech hasn't had a winning conference record since 2006-07 and it finished 19-43 overall the past two seasons, including a 4-32 mark in the Big 12.
The Red Raiders last went to the NCAA tournament in 2007, Bob Knight's final full season in Lubbock. It's been mostly downhill since then.
Smith won a national title and five Southeastern Conference championships in 10 years with Kentucky before leaving for Minnesota in 2007. Smith, who was replaced at Kentucky by Billy Gillispie, has also taken Tulsa and Georgia to the round of 16.
Now he'll try to do it again at Texas Tech, where he succeeds Gillispie. Smith is the fourth person to lead Texas Tech in as many seasons.
"It's my goal to build this program into one of the top programs, not just in the Big 12 but in the country, and that's not going to be easy," he said Tuesday at his first news conference in Lubbock. "It's going to be hard work."
Smith was fired by Minnesota last week after six seasons and landed a new job almost as quickly as the weather changes in West Texas. The 61-year-old got a six-year deal from the Red Raiders that will pay him $1.8 million a year, his agent Ricky Lefft said. It is the largest paycheck for a Texas Tech basketball coach.
Smith told Texas Tech fans gathered for his introduction that he was ready when athletic director Kirby Hocutt came calling last week.
"I wanted to get back on the horse right away because I feel like I have a lot to offer, a lot of energy," he said. "There's a lot of good years left in me to coach."
He said he plans to head to the Final Four in Atlanta this weekend to begin putting together his staff.
Smith's experience could be just what the Red Raiders need to pull out of their skid. The AP Coach of the Year in 2003, Smith is known as a program builder who doesn't cut corners. His teams have been clean and he's done things the right way, which could go a long way toward bringing name recognition to Texas Tech.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called Smith's hire a terrific choice.
"As Tubby has done everywhere he's coached, he will represent Texas Tech in a first-class manner and do an outstanding job leading the program," he said in a statement provided by Texas Tech.
Smith led the Golden Gophers to three NCAA tournaments and this year supplied the program's first tourney win -- over UCLA -- since 1997. He went 124-81 (.610), winning 20 games five times. But he never finished higher than sixth in the Big Ten, going just 46-62 in conference play, and Minnesota's athletic director decided it was time for a change.
In all, Smith is 511-226 (.693) in 22 seasons and his teams have won 20-plus games 19 times. His teams at Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky and Minnesota went to the NCAA tournament in 17 seasons.
Senior Jaye Crockett, the Red Raiders' leading scorer (11.9 points per game) and rebounder (6.5 rpg) this season, said he's heard plenty of good things about Smith.
"Hopefully he can just change it around as quick as possible because I only have a year, so hopefully it can be my best year yet," he said.
Crockett has had a different coach each year at Texas Tech. Pat Knight recruited him, he played for Gillispie and this season he had interim coach Chris Walker leading the team.
"I thought it was going to be Pat Knight here, and I'd be seeing Bob Knight in the office, stuff like that," he said. "Same players, same routine. It's a little different. You never know what life will throw at you."
Gillispie last one season at Texas Tech. Several players left the program and complained to Hocutt about how Gillispie treated them. There were some secondary NCAA violations for exceeding practice times and it all led to the Red Raiders finishing 8-23 and winning just one Big 12 game in 2011-12, the program's worst season since 1990-91.
Gillispie stepped down in September, citing health reasons after two hospital stays. Walker, an assistant at several schools for 17 years, was named interim coach and led Texas Tech to an improved season.© The Associated Press