Tubby Smith planned on taking a year away from basketball when he was fired as Minnesota’s coach after the 2013 season.
But a close advisor suggested otherwise. Donna Smith, Tubby’s wife, wasn’t prepared for a life at home with her husband.
“My wife made me go back to work,” Smith said. “She said, ‘You’ve been a good husband, a good provider for the family. We’re probably set for life. We’ve taken care of our finances well, we’ve invested well. We got money put away for the kids, even the grandkids.’
“ ‘But don’t forget the great-grandkids and take your (backside) back to work.’ ”
So Smith did, arriving at Texas Tech, and in his third season he has the Red Raiders closing in on their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2007, Bob Knight’s last season as coach.
Smith is the fourth Tech coach since then, and after two years of a combined 9-27 league record he has steered the Red Raiders to a 19-11 overall mark and 9-9 in Big 12 play as they take on TCU in the Big 12 Tournament at Sprint Center on Wednesday.
The turnaround has been a group effort. Four players average in double figures, led by senior guard Toddrick Gotcher at 11.2 points.
Signs of improvement came early when Tech scored non-league victories over South Dakota State and Arkansas-Little Rock, top 50 RPI programs this season.
There was some discouragement when Big 12 play started and the Raiders lost five straight. All were hard-fought and Tech believed it let a couple get away.
“I knew we had a good team, but this is a great conference,” Smith said. “I kept saying, we were playing against the best and we were right there with them.”
The players didn’t cave, and an overtime victory against Oklahoma State proved the Red Raiders could win a close game. A week later, Tech started a five-game winning streak, including three straight over ranked opponents.
Tech was building a postseason resume, and if the invitation is issued on Sunday, Smith will join Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger as college basketball’s only coaches to take five different programs to the NCAA Tournament: Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky and Minnesota were the others for Smith, who won the 1998 national title with the Wildcats.
“They were all good jobs,” Smith said. “But I am appreciative of the chance Texas Tech has given me.”