|Shaka Smart speaking his first words to the local press in 2009|
Last night, at about 8:30 p.m. I got a sinking feeling when I read an update that said the 8 p.m. coach-and-team meeting had been postponed. No doubt, I wasn't the only VCU basketball fan to sense that it wasn't a good sign.
Before the evening was over the bad news broke -- Shaka is leaving! Adam Kilgore writes about Coach Smart's decision for the Washington Post in his piece, "Shaka Smart leaves VCU to coach Texas."
Of course there were hoops fans in Richmond who had expected it. Some of them had also said Smart would leave in previous springs, because coaches generally take offers that mean a raise and a higher profile job. They said so when North Carolina State tried to hire him, and when UCLA tried, and when Marquette tried. Each time they were wrong. This time they were right.
Maybe the departing coach will bare his soul and tell us all the reasons he accepted the Texas offer. Is the job he's accepted in Austin really a better job than UCLA in Westwood?
Maybe. But I expect Smart will play his cards closer to his chest and not get into any of that. If I'm right he will likely say a whole lot of nice things about VCU and Richmond, then he'll mention the new challenge and providing for his family, etc. Maybe he will be so straightforward as to say something like, "It was the right time."
My sense of it is that timing, one way or another, had plenty to do with his decision to leave. What about blame? Is it anybody's fault Smart decided to move to Austin, Texas?
If it is, if somebody said or did something here in Richmond that made Smart feel differently about working and living in the Fan District, my guess is we won't hear it from him. But that scenario does make some sense -- perhaps something happened recently that put it all in a new light.
That's just a possibility, like others, but if you simply want to blame somebody for running Shaka Smart off, maybe it should be the people who haven't let their lack of knowledge about college basketball stop them from writing mean comments under articles about VCU basketball after every loss. (It still amazes me how pissed off and mean-spirited commenters get online posting their thoughts about sports, politics, etc.)
Examples of that sort of trash-talking are available for your perusal under Paul Woody's "Can't Blame Shaka Smart for Taking Texas Job," written for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Or, if you like, maybe you should blame the people who hate sports so much they squawk about it incessantly. Or, on another angle, you might rather blame those relentless locals who run down VCU every chance they get. That sort of useless blather might get less traction in Austin ... I don't know.
Still, rather than dwelling on any of that, my advice is to accentuate the positive. To hell with blame. Shaka's teams won at least 26 games in each of his six seasons at VCU. While accumulating an overall record of 163-56, there was never a hint of scandal associated with it. It is also worth noting that Shaka and his wife Maya have been noticeably good citizens and role models in their time in Richmond. And, they didn't live in a gated community in Goochland, either, the Smart family made the Fan District its home turf.
Coach Smart talked about "havoc" in his earliest days at VCU. He brought the concept with him. Is Havoc, Smart's signature style of play on the court -- his "brand" at VCU -- portable? Will he pack it all up and start preaching the gospel of Havoc as soon as he gets to Austin?
Maybe, but I doubt it, because I don't think it really is portable. It could seem like a self-promotional gimmick if he tries to warm it over and sell it again. Havoc worked at VCU, in good part because he wasn't coaching a team made up entirely of blue chip recruits. At Texas he's going to be coaching some wannabe one-and-done guys who want to compile stats to warrant their first-round selection in the NBA draft. Some of them won't be as coachable as four-year players like Briante Weber and Treveon Graham were.
Last prediction: Smart won't talk about Havoc at Texas and the next VCU coach will be savvy enough to say the Rams will play hard, but he won't try to keep that slogan alive. It's had its time and now those Havoc T-shirts will become collectors' items. Havoc was an era. It was fun while it lasted.
Moreover, Shaka Smart has been the best coach in VCU's history, but nobody should assume the Rams will suddenly drop off of the map. The university at the heart of Richmond has had its successful coaches hired away before.
By the way, if everybody stays the Rams have 10 guys returning and only one of them is a senior. We don't know if the recruits will stick, but they are highly regarded. My hope is that next spring somebody will be trying to hire the Rams head basketball coach away, again.
The best part of this story, at least for for me, is that I didn't wake up today with a hangover. After the bad news last night, I tried to drown my sorrows with Rolling Rocks at the Bamboo Café. Got away with it clean as a whistle.