So this is the world we live in now.
The head coaching job at VCU is better than UCLA. On the basketball court. Shaka Smart told us with his actions, accepting a large contract extension on Wednesday to stay at VCU, a program that he basically put on the map.
Smart was believed to be the hot name, along with Butler head coach Brad Stevens, to possibly fill the void at UCLA — a program where the head coaching role was made historic by John Wooden.
But in the decades since Wooden’s tenure ended, college basketball has changed a lot. For one, parity is taking over with the one-and-done rule that allows the stars to leave the college ranks for the NBA after a year on campus. This has made the smaller programs a force in the game because they can build a solid roster with a chemistry that won’t be constantly broken up by star players leaving college early. You’re seeing that right now in the NCAA Tournament, where schools like La Salle and Florida Gulf Coast are doing really big things.
Also, at the smaller school, the pressure isn’t as unreasonable on head coaches. Big-time college basketball is becoming a lot like SEC Football — coaches can get fired for one bad season. Heck, they can be canned for doing less than the fans hoped. UCLA fired Ben Howland last week even though he took the Bruins to the second round of the Dance. To them, that just wasn’t good enough.
At VCU, Smart can miss the tournament and not get fired. The room for error is much more spacious, as long as he doesn’t string together losing seasons, which he won’t.
So tell me what you would do: stay at a university where the money is good and you’re idolized, or go to the West Coast to coach a storied program where you’re constantly compared to the greatest coach in the history of the game, if not sports in general. It seems to be a no-brainer to me.
Smart made the smart decision. There will always be another great job to come along. He just needs to make sure it’s a job where he has a chance to survive.