MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Tubby Smith was hailed as a rescuer when he came to Minnesota from Kentucky in 2007, a championship-certified coach who would restore a once-proud program to respectability after it was brought down by scandal.
Smith accomplished much of what he was brought in to do, bringing the Golden Gophers back to the NCAA tournament three times, keeping Minnesota free of NCAA violations for six years and bringing some energy back to Williams Arena.
When new athletic director Norwood Teague saw the progress stagnate, he decided it was time for a different voice to continue to take the next step. Smith was fired on Monday, one day after the Gophers lost to Florida in the NCAA tournament.
“I feel it’s time for a fresh approach for our basketball program, for our student athletes and the program in general,” Teague said.
“We felt now following a season where there were high expectations for this coaching staff that it was time to make a change for the benefit of our student athletes and as we build for the future.”
Smith was 124-81 (.610) in six seasons at Minnesota, winning 20 games five times and bringing the first NCAA tournament victory since 1997 when the 11th-seeded Gophers beat UCLA last week.
But he went just 46-62 in Big Ten play and never finished higher than sixth in the conference.
Smith was welcomed with wild enthusiasm when he arrived to replace the overmatched Dan Monson, who was unable to raise the program from the abyss created by an academic fraud scandal that ended up wiping out the team’s Final Four appearance in 1997.
Smith won 20 games his first season and took the team to the NCAA tournament the following year, restoring some sense of pride to a team that at one time was the most popular draw in the Twin Cities.
But the success seemed to level off after that.