Tubby Smith's coaching in 2002-03 ranks among the very best in the 100 years of Kentucky basketball. But for the man who won the 1998 NCAA Championship in his first year in the Commonwealth, success is no stranger.
Last season, Kentucky established the nation's longest win streak in seven years, highlighted by a sweep of the Southeastern Conference regular-season slate and tournament play (19-0), a feat that had not been accomplished in the league since 1952. His Wildcats finished No. 1in the final Associated Press poll and Smith swept SEC and National Coach of the Year honors. Kentucky ended the season in the Elite Eight with a 32-4 record, becoming just the 11th team in school history to top the 30-win mark.
His achievements have added to an eye-popping resume. Since arriving in 1997, Smith has led Kentucky to one national championship, four SEC crowns and four SEC Tournament titles, with no less than five Sweet 16 finishes in his six seasons. But it was in 2003 that the accolades arrived in a landslide. Smith snared all seven of the national honors recognized by the NCAA - AP, USBWA, Naismith, Basketball Times, The Sporting News, NABC, and CBS/Chevrolet. He became the first coach to sweep the list since Indiana's Bobby Knight captured all five in 1975. For good measure, Smith added honors from ESPN, Foxsports.com, the Black Coaches Association and College Sports Television.
Following the 2003 season, Smith, one of only six men to lead three schools to the Sweet 16, signed a new eight-year contract with Kentucky running through 2011. The new deal is worth at least $2.5 million per year, making Smith one of the highest paid collegiate men's basketball coaches in the nation.
Over his 12 seasons as a head coach, the 51-year-old has had 10 consecutive 20-win seasons, which ranks fourth among active coaches. In 2002, he joined an elite group when he became the seventh head coach to win 250 games in 11 seasons or less, joining the likes of Roy Williams, Jim Boeheim and Nolan Richardson. Smith's career record is now 288-109, and his 72.5 winning percentage is eighth among active coaches entering the 2003-04 season.
In 2001, he totaled 100 wins quicker than any other Wildcat coach except Hall of Famer Adolph Rupp, reaching the plateau in 130 games. Since taking over the UK program, he has won 78 percent of his games and has taken five teams to at least the Sweet 16, despite playing a schedule that annually ranks among the nation's best.
In NCAA Tournament play, Smith owns the fifth-best winning percentage among active coaches, trailing Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, among others, with a sterling 23-9 record.
Even more impressive, Smith has won 78 percent of his games at Kentucky, averaging more than 27 wins per season. In the SEC Tournament, he's 12-2 at UK, and he has won a league championship six times in his 12 years as a head coach.
Not even the bluest bloods of Wildcat basketball fandom would have guessed UK could have continued its remarkable success after a national title in '96 and a runner-up finish in '97. After all, the team had lost six players over two seasons to the NBA and other key Cats to graduation.
When Smith took the reins for the '98 season, he inherited a balanced roster loaded with role players. An early loss to Arizona dampened expectations. Three losses at Rupp Arena followed. UK then rebounded to win the 1998 SEC Eastern Division title and the overall SEC crown. One week later, UK rolled through the SEC Tournament in Atlanta with decisive wins over Arkansas and South Carolina.
"Tubby Ball," a system of solid defense and rebounding, combined with his chess-match style of coaching, was on display.
As a No. 2 seed in the '98 NCAA Tournament's South Region, UK cruised to the regional final to face top-seeded Duke with a third-consecutive trip to the Final Four hanging in the balance. The Blue Devils grabbed an 18-point lead in the first half and held a 17-point lead midway through the second half. UK's first opportunity for redemption against Duke since Christian Laettner's famous shot in '92 appeared to be over. But when Smith went to a smaller lineup to counter the quicker Duke players, the Cats stormed back to win, 86-84.
UK then rallied from a five-point halftime deficit against Stanford in the national semifinals before winning in overtime, 86-85. Many pegged the contest as one of the most well coached games in the entire tournament. Then two days later, Utah had not only outrebounded the Wildcats 24-6 in the first half, but also led by 10, 41-31, at halftime. No team had ever come from behind by more than eight points in the championship game.
The game plan wore out the Utes, and the "Comeback Cats" rallied to win, 78-69.
Smith accomplished the unexpected. He led the Wildcats to their second title in three years. He had become the first coach since Cincinnati's Ed Jucker in 1961 to win the national title in his first year at a school.
Smith was named National Coach of the Year by Basketball Weekly and Co-SEC Coach of the Year by The Associated Press. The New York Athletic Club presented Smith with the prestigious Winged Foot Award given to the coach of the national champions after each season. In the off-season, he picked up the Parent of the Year Award by Parent Magazine, the Victor Award by the Black Coaches Association and was even voted the "Sexiest Male Public Figure" in a reader's vote in a local magazine. The honors culminated when he was named the Kentucky Sportsman of the Year for 1998 in a statewide media vote, edging out the highly popular Tim Couch of the Kentucky football team.
After earning high acclaim by winning the national title in his first season, Smith guided a team comprised of eight freshmen and sophomores to within eight points of UK's fourth consecutive Final Four appearance. Michigan State prevailed and the Wildcats were ousted in the 1999 Midwest Region final, 73-66.
UK's triumphs in the 1998-99 season included six wins over teams ranked in the top 11 with victories over No. 2 Maryland and No. 4 Auburn, and 13 wins over teams in the NCAA Tournament. When March arrived, Smith's squad went to work, winning its seventh SEC Tournament title in eight years. The third-seeded Wildcats then competed in their eighth consecutive NCAA Tournament, earning an overtime win against Kansas in the second round, perhaps the most exciting game of the tourney. UK finished with a 28-9 record, tying its own NCAA record of 132 wins in a four-year period.
Since that time, the Wildcats have captured SEC Championships in both 2000 and 2001. The 2001-02 season began with a preseason No. 4 national ranking, but the Cats battled an inordinate amount of injuries and suspensions before being eliminated by Maryland, the eventual national champion, in the East Region Semifinals.
This consistent success has become the standard for Tubby Smith. The native of Scotland, Md., was introduced as the Cats' 20th head coach on May 12, 1997, six days after Rick Pitino announced he was resigning to become president and head coach of the NBA's Boston Celtics.
Kentucky is Smith's third head coaching stop. Previously, he revived two mediocre programs, Tulsa and Georgia, into NCAA title hopefuls. Prior to coming to the Bluegrass, he spent two seasons at Georgia, where he coached the Bulldogs to a 45-19 (70.3%) record and the first back-to-back seasons of 20 wins or more in school history. Prior to Georgia, he coached four seasons at Tulsa, guiding the Golden Hurricane to Final 16 appearances his last two seasons.
The 1996-97 season at Georgia was one his best coaching efforts. After losing eight seniors and all five starters from the year before, Smith led the youthful Dogs to a 24-9 record, equaling the school record for most wins in a season. UGA finished third in the SEC with a 10-6 record, just behind second-place Kentucky. And three of Georgia's nine losses came against the Wildcats in '97, including a 95-68 loss in the SEC Tournament Championship game. Georgia finished the year ranked 17th in the final AP poll and earned a No. 3 seed in the Southeast Regional.
In Smith's first year in Athens, Georgia advanced to the Final 16, where his team lost to eventual runner-up Syracuse on a last-second shot. It was the Bulldogs' first NCAA Tournament appearance in five years. His team ended the season 21-10 overall and 9-7 in league play for a second-place finish in the Eastern Division. In the NCAA Tournament's opening round, eighth-seeded Georgia defeated No. 9 Clemson before toppling No. 1-seed Purdue to advance to the West Regional semifinals. There, the Dogs lost to Jim Boeheim's Orangemen in what many labeled the best game of the 1996 tournament.
Before arriving in Georgia, Smith led Tulsa to a 79-43 (64.8%) record and won consecutive Missouri Valley Conference regular-season titles in 1994 and '95. When he took over the Golden Hurricane in 1991, he had just five returning players. With a quick injection of new talent, he completed his first season by coaching Tulsa to the MVC Championship Game after finishing fourth during the regular season.
Following a 15-14 record in 1993, Tulsa won more than 20 games in each of Smith's last two seasons, captured first-place honors in the MVC with identical 15-3 marks and made consecutive trips to the Sweet 16. He earned the MVC's Coach of the Year award in both 1994 and '95. In his final year at Tulsa, Smith led the Golden Hurricane to a 24-8 record, marking the third-highest victory total in school history, and a No. 15 ranking in the final CNN/USA Today poll.
Much of his success as a collegiate head coach has been measured by his teams' performances in the NCAA Tournament. Smith's 1994 Tulsa team upset UCLA in the tourney's first round before knocking off Oklahoma State. In '95, the Hurricane blew away Big-Ten power Illinois to open March Madness. His postseason success continued at Georgia where the Bulldogs defeated Clemson to open the '96 tournament before upsetting the top-seeded Boilermakers.
Considered by many as one of the nation's top coaches, Smith was selected to help coach the 2000 U.S. Olympic Basketball Team in Sydney. He served as an assistant to Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich as the Americans withstood high expectations to capture the gold medal.
Currently, he serves on the NCAA Committee to study basketball issues, joining Duke's Krzyzewski and Oregon's Ernie Kent. He serves on the National Association of Basketball Coaches Board of Directors and in June 2000, spoke at a Congressional hearing on the issue of gambling in college sports.
While he continues to make strides nationally in the sport of basketball, Smith's first impact on the Bluegrass came nine years before his national championship. When Pitino took over the Wildcats' program in '89, he sought an assistant coach who knew the South, and one name continued to surface -- Tubby Smith. Smith left his assistant coaching position at South Carolina and joined Pitino's first staff, which had the dubious honor of rebuilding a UK program that had been rocked by NCAA probation and player defections.
With only eight scholarship student-athletes, none taller than 6-7, the staff molded the Cats into winners once again, exceeding expectations to record a 14-14 mark. The following year, with Smith promoted to associate coach and UK still on probation, the Wildcats earned a 22-6 record, a final ranking of ninth in the AP poll, and an SEC-best 14-4 record.
The members of those first two staffs that Pitino assembled formed an impressive group of future head coaches. Smith served alongside Ralph Willard of Holy Cross, North Carolina State's Herb Sendek, Florida's Billy Donovan and Bernadette Mattox, former coach of the UK women's team, while the Wildcats began the rebuilding effort that culminated with two championships in three seasons.
Before coming to Kentucky in '89, Smith was an assistant coach for George Felton (a former UK assistant - 1998-00) at South Carolina, where the Gamecocks notched a 53-35 record during his three years. Prior to his stop in Columbia, Smith served as assistant coach at Virginia Commonwealth for seven years, including six seasons under J.D. Barnett. In those seven seasons, VCU registered a 144-64 record, won three Sun Belt Conference Championships and made five NCAA Tournament appearances. And under Barnett, Smith learned the principles of his ball-line defense, a defense that in three of his first four years at UK held opponents to their lowest field goal percentages since 1962.
Smith began his coaching career at Great Mills High School in Great Mills, Md., where he was head coach for four years and compiled a 46-36 record. His next stop came at Hoke County High School in Raeford, N.C., where he recorded a 28-18 mark in two seasons.
A 1973 graduate of High Point (N.C.) College, Smith was an all-conference performer as a senior. He played under three different head coaches at High Point, including Barnett, and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in health and physical education.
Smith is the sixth of 17 children raised on a rural farm in southern Maryland. He and his wife Donna, have three sons: Orlando (G.G.), 25, who is now in the coaching profession as an assistant at Tennessee Tech; Saul, 23, who plays for Columbus of the NBDL; and Brian, 18, who is a senior on the defending state champion Lexington Catholic High School team.
Coach Smith is very active in the community. The Tubby Smith Foundation, which he established to assist underprivileged children, has raised over $1.5 million in the past five years.
In the summer of 2001, the United Way created a new award - The Donna and Tubby Smith Community Spirit Award. The Smith's were the inaugural recipient of the award for their generous contributions. In 2001, their $125,000 donation made them the highest individual contributor to the United Way in the state of Kentucky. The award is given annually to those who effectively advance mobilization or collaboration to achieve positive impact that benefits the Central Kentucky community at-large.
College Coaching Recap 1979-86 Asst. Coach VCU 1986-89 Asst. Coach S. Carolina 1989-91 Asst. Coach Kentucky Tulsa
1991-92 17-13 1992-93 15-14 1993-94 23-8 (NCAA 16) 1994-95 24-8 (NCAA 16) Total 79-43 (64.8%)
1995-96 21-10 (NCAA 16) 1996-97 24-9 (NCAA 64) Total 45-19 (70.3%)
1997-98 35-4 (NCAA Champ) 1998-99 28-9 (NCAA 8) 1999-00 23-10 (NCAA 32) 2000-01 24-10 (NCAA 16) 2001-02 22-10 (NCAA 16) 2002-03 32-4 (NCAA 8) Total (6 years) 164-47 (77.7%)Totals
12th year - 288-109 (72.5%)