Reason No. 1: Tubby Smith
Do the names Grant McCasland, Michael White, Chris Walker, Tim Floyd or Marvin Menzies ring a bell? If not, consider that all were at one time mentioned to be candidates to be hired as the Texas Tech basketball coach in 2013 following the early season departure of Billie Gillespie just weeks prior to the season opener.
Fortunately, AD Kirby Hocutt was unwilling to settle and patiently did his due diligence in finding his next head coach. That patience was rewarded when on March 26, 2013 Minnesota fired its head coach, Tubby Smith despite the Golden Gophers having advanced to the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament that season.
By April 2nd, Smith was given the job at Texas Tech and three years later Texas Tech is in the NCAA Tournament while Minnesota just finished an 8-23 season under Smith’s successor Richard Pitino. But while Smith is the most popular man in Lubbock right now, many Texas Tech fans were not thrilled by his hiring in 2013.
A large faction wanted to hire 2012-13 interim head coach Chris Walker because 5-star guard Keith Frazier from Dallas had said that he would commit to Texas Tech only if Walker were given the position on a permanent basis. Frazier went on to play for SMU and Larry Brown where he would be the focus of an NCAA rules infraction case that cost the Mustangs a postseason appearance this year. Link
Frazier left SMU to play for North Texas and was recently arrested following a fight in a Denton, TX bar. Link
Other fans had delusional dreams of Texas Tech being able to land Buzz Williams (who was then head coach at Marquette and now coaches at Virginia Tech) or former Texas Tech assistant coach Doc Sadler (who was an Iowa State assistant coach at the time and is now the head coach at Southern Mississippi). But the harsh reality is that the Texas Tech basketball program was in such abysmal shape that Hocutt was finding it tough to recruit any quality candidates.
Then the college basketball gods delivered Tubby Smith on a golden chariot. In three years, Smith has brought the program back from beyond the dead.
His 2013 recruiting class is now two years into its run at Texas Tech and the four true sophomores are the core of a team that has arrived in the NCAA Tournament at least one year before anyone expected. Smith has also proven to be a masterful tactician. He guided his team to a 19-win season despite losing one center to transfer (Manderson) and another (Odiase) to a broken foot for 14 conference games.
Furthermore, every player Smith has coached for at least two seasons has shown significant improvement. Aaron Ross, Keenan Evans, Zach Smith and Justin Gray have all taken huge steps forward this season under Smith’s tutelage.
In October, Smith was named the recipient of the John R. Wooden “Legends of Coaching” honor for his career achievements. Link He was also named the Big 12 Coach of the Year and the Sporting News National Coach of the Year for the unbelievable job he did in 2015-16 with the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
No one knows where the basketball program would be today had another candidate been hired but it is almost impossible to imagine any coach being able to do at Texas Tech what Smith has done in just three years. He is at the top of the list of reasons that the Red Raiders are back in the NCAA Tournament.