When N.C. State and Missouri woo VCU coach Shaka Smart next week (or as soon as the Rams lose), it’s not just because Smart’s the hot coaching prospect out there.
It’s because he could be the next great coach.
Smart turns 34 this summer. He’s the youngest coach at the Final Four (Butler’s Brad Stevens has him by a year), but that’s hardly a reason to think twice about hiring him, regardless of your program’s standing.
As pointed out by CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish, the other two coaches in the Final Four, Jim Calhoun and John Calipari, both got their first head coaching jobs at 29. Those worked out pretty well.
Instead, some athletic directors insist on hiring coaching retread like Rod Barnes, who’s a former national coach of the year – but also was 185-187 in stints at Ole Miss and Georgia State.
Still, I understand exactly why Cal State-Bakersfield’s athletic director hired Barnes; it’s all in that silly quote. If this doesn’t end well, Konya can always argue that he hired a former National Coach of the Year with more than 180 wins. You know, somebody with a rérsumé. The alternative would’ve been to gamble on a young coach, and athletic directors aren’t usually into gambling as much as they’re into making a move that’s perceived safe.
“They try to cover their butts,” Calhoun told me Thursday. “If you have verification that a guy has just gone to the NCAA tournament two or three times, then you in turn have just made a good hire for your university. But if you take a chance — it’s hard to take a chance. It takes an AD to have some strength and some strength about himself. Internal strength. At many universities, the [hire] you make may determine your career. So you need to have some safeguards or built-in evidence that this guy is going to be successful. That’s why it’s difficult [to hire a young coach.]”
If Smart does leave for N.C. State, he won’t come cheaply. But he’s certainly affordable right now. VCU will pay him $418,000 this season. Butler’s paying Stevens $434,382.
Hiring a young coach takes a brave AD. But those ADs also look mighty smart when they do their homework. Ask Tom Butters.
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