Minnesota souring on Tubby? (Kentucky fans get an apology)

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Here’s a headline that caught my eye Sunday:

That’s from Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Jim Souhan, who’s ready for the Tubby Smith era to end at Minnesota. It serves as an “open letter” to Big Blue Nation, who is commonly seen as the reason Smith left Kentucky after the 2007 season. He lays out a few accusations and backhanded complements, then lays into Smith.

And it’s not just about wins and losses for Souhan. It’s about Smith’s attitude. From his column:

This week might have provided the low point of an impressive career. Smith not only coached poorly; he became whiny, an unseemly characteristic for a supposed leader of young men.

After his team lost to Ohio State last Sunday, Smith linked his team’s weak play to Minnesota’s lack of a practice facility. Smith actually told Minnesotans that it was hard for his players to walk across the street in the cold to lift weights, one of the most pathetic excuses in the history of sport.

After his team lost to a struggling Illinois team at Williams Arena on Thursday, Smith called out a handful of his players for gutless or unintelligent play. He even criticized Blake Hoffarber, who is playing out of position and with a troublesome knee, for failing to draw more fouls.

This is scapegoating at its worst. In college basketball, coach is king, and the program is his fiefdom. He is responsible for recruiting, player improvement, roster makeup, offense, defense, game management and public relations.

He reaps the rewards when he wins; he should accept blame when the program that is a manifestation of his skills and decisions implodes.

It’s a strong stance, and one that’s no without merit. Smith shouldn’t escape blame for the Gophers’ problems – Minnesota beat reporter Myron P. Medcalf doesn’t use the same venom, but also thinks Smith is to blame – but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out two things.

Souhan soured on Smith last season, which alienated some Gophers fans who say he doesn’t understand basketball.

Also, Minnesota’s season isn’t over. The Gophers are 17-8 overall and 6-7 in the Big Ten after snapping a four-game losing streak vs. Iowa. With five games left on their Big Ten schedule – Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan, Northwestern and Penn State – 20 wins and a .500 mark in the Big Ten isn’t unreasonable.

That’ll probably prompt another trip to the NCAA tournament and another season in which the Gophers fared better than they did under former coach Dan Monson. And that’s what most of this is about, right? Winning and losing?

Expectations at Minnesota are far, far different than they are at Kentucky. He’s 32-35 in Big Ten play and are eyeing their third straight NCAA tournament. I’d say that qualifies as a solid start to a Minnesota coaching career, crappy attitude or not.

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