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Updated: March 27th, 2013 9:40pm
Zulgad: Pursuit of Shaka Smart shows AD doesn't have interest in settling

Zulgad: Pursuit of Shaka Smart shows AD doesn't have interest in settling

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Norwood Teague did not get his man and we might never know how close he came.

Teague, the Minnesota Gophers' athletic director, undoubtedly was disappointed Wednesday when he learned his former employer, Virginia Commonwealth University, had convinced his old buddy, Shaka Smart, to stay put by giving him a contract extension through 2023 that reportedly will bump his salary from $1.2 million to $1.5 million per season.

ESPN said Smart made the decision despite the fact he was the top target of both the Gophers and UCLA. Sports Illustrated reported the 35-year-old Smart had informed UCLA that he would remain with the Rams.

Teague made it clear Monday during the press conference to announce the dismissal of Tubby Smith that he would not use a search firm in finding his next men's basketball coach. The fact Teague fired Smith less than 24 hours after the Gophers were eliminated from the NCAA tournament with a second-round loss to Florida caused some to speculate that a deal already was done with a new coach.

Turns out that wasn't the case.

Twitter was buzzing Wednesday morning with speculation about whether Smart was in the Twin Cities or Richmond, Va., and one tweet even claimed Minnesota was offering a seven-year contract that would pay Smart more than $21 million.

While Teague will have to return to what is likely a short list of candidates, the fact the AD apparently made an aggressive play for Smart is a step in the right direction. Smart and Butler's Brad Stevens are two of the top young coaches in college basketball and it's safe to assume that not only did Teague reach out to Smart but he also has called Stevens.

The fact that Stevens also is likely to say thanks but no thanks isn't the point. Teague is proving he has no interest in settling.

Teague, who was the AD at VCU before replacing Joel Maturi last June, isn't one of us and that's a good thing. He's not going to pursue the local guy, the easy hire or the big-name coach who it turns out is being forced out of another job.

Teague spent one season watching Smith coach the Gophers and decided that he had seen enough.

His decision to fire Smith was an unpopular one with many in the national media - Smith is a good guy and has plenty of friends in basketball circles - but it was the type of impact move Teague felt he had to make.

Now Teague wants to make an impact hire.

The easiest thing for Teague to do would be to give the job to former Gopher Flip Saunders. Saunders lives in town and it's no secret that he wants the job.

Saunders isn't a bad choice but there's nothing wrong with the fact that he isn't Teague's first choice.

Having worked with Teague on his weekly radio show on 1500 ESPN, it wasn't hard to tell that Teague sees himself as a mover and a shaker.

You've heard of power coaches in football and basketball. Teague might best be described as a guy who sees himself as a power athletic director. What does that mean? It means he isn't going to accept the fact that many feel the Gophers program is limited in how far it can go. That might be true about football, but it certainly shouldn't be true when it comes to hoops.

It also means the 47-year-old Teague might have visions of eventually moving onto a bigger job himself. Teague, gasp, might not see Minnesota as his last stop.

If Teague is going to continue to make a name for himself, he knows that getting a guy like Smart would be the best way to draw attention to what he's doing. Teague also knows that all the talking heads who were sick about the Smith firing would have been fawning over him if he had gotten Smart.

It will be interesting to see Teague's next move. A member of the Gophers athletic department said Monday that Teague wouldn't be doing anymore interviews with the media until he had a coach.

That was one of a few indications that there was a quiet confidence on campus that something would be happening soon.

Maybe that's because Teague thought he could convince Smart to join him in Minnesota. Perhaps that's because Teague's list of candidates included a second choice who had indicated he would take the job if Smart didn't.

At this point, Teague might turn to Saunders. Or maybe it will be Alabama's Anthony Grant, who was the coach at VCU before Smart, or perhaps Marquette's Buzz Williams really is firmly on the radar. (The feeling here is that hiring Grant wouldn't move the needle much and would draw a collective yawn.)

The only known at this point is that Smart won't be coaching the Gophers. Teague might not be happy about that but at least it appears he is legitimately interested in landing an upper-echelon coach at Minnesota and not taking the simplest route possible to do so.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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