On Sunday, the Big 12 named Texas Tech basketball coach Tubby Smith the conference coach of the year. After improving Texas Tech’s season win total from 13 to 19 and conference win total from 3 to 9 from a year ago, virtually the same roster, Smith was the obvious choice for the honor. But what Smith did this season is the greatest single-season coaching job in Texas Tech history.
When Tubby Smith took over at Texas Tech he was the 4th head coach in the programs last four years. That lack of continuity left the Texas Tech basketball program in shambles.
The previous three head coaches (Pat Knight, Billie Gillespie and interim head coach Chris Walker) combined to go 32-62 in the three seasons prior to Smith’s arrival. The Red Raiders had not had a winning season since 2009-10 and had gone six consecutive years with a losing conference record.
The lack of futility that plagued the Texas Tech program resulted in an absence of talent on the roster forcing Tubby Smith to rebuild his team around four 2014 true freshman signees. In other words, Smith inherited nothing and was forced to rebuild the program from scratch while playing in arguably to toughest conference in the country.
More from Wreck'Em Red
- Texas Tech football: Red Raider fans need to know about these Mountaineers
- Texas Tech football: Red Raiders land first commit for class of 2025
- Texas Tech football: Why have the Red Raiders struggled on the road under McGuire?
- Texas Tech football: Why the Red Raiders can compete for a Big 12 title
- Texas Tech football: Plenty of questions remain as conference play arrives
What Tubby Smith did this year is beyond remarkable; it is down right miraculous. No other coach in Texas Tech history has authored as masterful of a comeback story as has Smith.
Consider the challenges he faced. Texas Tech had the toughest schedule in the NCAA this year and four true sophomores started a significant number of those games.
Then, just as the season started sophomore center Isaiah Manderson left the team meaning that Smith had to rely on a walk on (Matt Temple…hey, by the way, did you know he was part of the fraternity league championship team at the rec center last year? Didn’t know if you’d heard that little nugget or not) to play a meaningful role.
Furthermore, Smith’s team lost starting center Norense Odiase for 12 games on January 18th. After that, the Red Raiders were reeling until mid February with a 3-7 conference record.
On the verge of losing his young team, Tubby Smith found a way to change Texas Tech’s style of play and save the season. Smith inserted sophomore forward Justin Gray into the starting lineup and went to junior forward Aaron Ross to close out games. The result was a five game winning streak that put Texas Tech squarely in the mix for an NCAA tournament birth, which the team in all likelihood secured with Saturday’s win over Kansas State.
There have been a number of coaches that have had terrific seasons at Texas Tech but none top what Smith has done.
The job Texas Tech baseball coach Tim Tadlock did in 2014 when he took the Red Raiders to the College Baseball World Series for the first time is on the same level as what Smith has done in 2016. However, Tadlock was coming off of a 2013 season that saw his team finish just four games below .500 with a 26-30 record and a 0.37 winning percentage in conference play.
Last season, Tubby Smith’s team was six games below .500 (two games worse than Tadlock’s 2013 team despite playing 24 fewer games). The 2014-15 basketball team had an overall winning percentage of 0.40 and a conference winning percentage of just 0.16.
More from Texas Tech Basketball
- Texas Tech football: Micah Hudson has perfect mentality to be a Red Raider
- Texas Tech basketball: Analyzing the Red Raiders 2023-24 non-conference schedule
- Texas Tech football: Big 12 newcomers that could become threats to Red Raiders
- Texas Tech basketball: Thoughts on Red Raiders 2023-24 Big 12 opponents reveal
- Texas Tech basketball: Balanced effort leads Air Raiders to TBT win
Tadlock performed a miracle of his own in 2014 by taking Texas Tech baseball further than it had ever been but he was working with a roster that featured five all-conference first or second team selections. It will be a surprise if any of Tubby Smith’s basketball players earn all-conference recognition this season.
In 2008, Mike Leach led the Texas Tech football team to a No. 2 national ranking late in the season and the program’s first 10-win season in three decades. However, his team was laden with all-conference players and featured the greatest quarterback in program history (Graham Harrell) and the greatest receiver in Texas Tech history (Michael Crabtree). That Texas Tech team entered the season ranked No. 14 nationally while the 2015-16 basketball team was picked to finish last in the conference.
In 2001-2002, Texas Tech head basketball coach Bob Knight led the team to a 23-9 season in his first year in Lubbock. Knight saw his team increase its win total by 14 games from the previous season and earn a trip to the NCAA tournament.
Yet Knight had more to work with than Smith did this year. On the 2001-02 roster was future Big 12 all-time scoring leader Andre Emmett, senior center Andy Ellis (the no. 12 career scorer in program history and 2nd-team all-Big 12 selection).
In addition, Knight had solid upperclassmen like forwards Kasib Powell and Pawel Storozynski. Furthermore, the Big 12 in 2001-02 was nowhere near the caliber of league it is in 2015-16 when 70% of the conference is expected to be in the NCAA Tournament.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the job Lady Raiders basketball coach Marsha Sharp did in leading her team to the 1993 national title. The Lady Raiders were 32-3 that year but that was due in large part to having the best player in the nation, Sheryl Swoopes, arguably the best female basketball player in history.
Somehow Tubby Smith has taken a team of unheralded youngsters and blue-collar players to the NCAA Tournament, ending a 9-year drought for the school. When Smith was hired at Texas Tech in 2013, a number fans referred to him as a “re-tread” coach that was past his prime and just looking to cash a few more big paychecks before his retirement. Now, he is the toast of the town and has proven why he will one day be a hall of fame coach.
The job he has done this season deserves to be immortalized with at least a monument at the USA if not a statue in the middle of the intersection of Broadway and University.