Is Tubby driving the bus at Minnesota?

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I’m fascinated by Tubby Smith. He’s a national title winner, he’s mentioned in at least one prominent job search every season, yet the general feeling surrounding him in any given campaign since he left Kentucky in 2007 can best be summed up with the internet staple word ‘meh’.

Perhaps it’s because he’s never managed better than 9-9 in the ultra-competitive Big Ten, and has fallen to 6-12 in each of his last two seasons in the Twin Cities. Perhaps its the sense that his signature success at Kentucky was a fluke, accomplished with players left behind by Rick Pitino. Regardless, Smith’s presence makes Minnesota relevant even when the team doesn’t win. The two sides of that coin were coded into the details of Smith’s recent contract extension.

One part of the contract revealed Smith’s weakness. He’s afraid he’ll get fired. He got the university to agree that he could not be fired mid-season, and if the university fires him, they must pay him $2.5 million, up from $1.5 million in the prior deal.

Several of the details revealed his ‘meh’ status, as well. His base salary was established in 2007 as $600,000 with annual 5% increases. No increase in either of those terms has been reported. Instead, piles of performance-based incentives were ladled onto the contract. For instance, if Smith and his Gophers win the NCAA tournament, he gets $1.5 million. Not to be a negative Nelly, but I’m betting neither side of the negotiating table thinks that one’s going to be paid out. It’s a concession that costs the university nothing, and saves a little face for Smith.

The upshot of the contract is sort of a short-term vote of confidence disguised as a long-term vote of confidence. The $2.5 million buyout is probably the strongest indicator that Minnesota plans to keep Smith around for a while longer. Of course, an upper-echelon finish in the 2013 Big Ten, on the shoulders of Trevor Mbakwe, would go a long ways toward making Smith sit a little easier.