After 31 seasons as a College Basketball Head Coach, the legendary Tubby Smith has called it quits and will ride off into the sunset as one of the most beloved coaches in all of College Basketball history.
Unlike a lot of coaches in College Basketball, Head Coach Tubby Smith never sold his soul for the sake of wins. For 31 years, Tubby Smith did things the right way; you can ask anybody in College Basketball who has ever had the privilege of interacting with Tubby has had nothing but kind words to say about him.
From personal experience with Tubby, I grew up a Kentucky fan, I was born in 1996, and some of my first memories with Tubby Smith came back when I was just an infant as my parents found a way to get me on the court to get a picture with Coach Tubby Smith. From there, my love for the game of College Basketball would flourish watching his Kentucky Wildcats teams growing up. When Tubby left Kentucky in 2007 to pursue the Head Coaching job at Minnesota as a ten-year-old kid, I was devasted. Here’s my favorite College Basketball Coach of all time; leaving my team to coach at another program was something my young brain couldn’t quite understand. To this date, like many Kentucky Basketball fans across the world, I too have my theory as to why Tubby left Kentucky, but in hindsight, it was for the best.
Despite Tubby leaving Kentucky in 2007, my admiration and respect for Coach Smith never faded. I became a Golden Gopher fan overnight. Tubby was still my Coach, and I realized at that young age the importance of loyalty to a Head Coach who happened to be a good man, which is rare in the sport of College Basketball. Sure, you’ll find a few coaches who have never sold their soul, but none as genuine as Tubby.
Fast forward almost ten years later to 2016, I was a young gun in the sports media world, I was working my butt off to earn the respect of coaches and, here comes Tubby Smith to my backyard to be the Head Coach at Memphis.
The hire was not very welcomed amongst those in the 901 because Tiger fans at that point wanted Penny Hardaway. Yet, I was excited because I would be reunited with the College Basketball I hold in the highest regard. I would have the honor in my young career to cover Tubby Smith and tell the stories of his teams it was everything I ever dreamed it to be.
One memory, in particular, stands alone above the rest during my two seasons of covering Tubby Smith at Memphis. It was during a postgame press conference, Memphis had beaten somebody in the AAC, and folks were pretty excited about the win. In comes Head Coach Tubby Smith; I worked my way up to asking him a Basketball question about a defensive scheme he went with, and Tubby took the time to breakdown the tape right there in his press conference, and later that season thanked me for covering him and his team at Memphis. That meant more to me to have Tubby Smith stop what he was doing and thank me for covering his team with fairness than anything that’s ever happened to me in my five and half years of covering College Athletics.
Things finally came full circle for Tubby Smith this December as the University of Kentucky honored Coach by retiring a jersey in the rafters of Rupp Arena. An honor only held by two other coaches in Joe B. Hall and Coach Rupp himself. As a kid who loves Kentucky Basketball and Tubby Smith, watching that happen on December 31st was a College Basketball moment that will forever stay with me and will be passed down from generations to come.
Some will find some way to tear down Tubby, but what he did for the game of College Basketball in his gentle manner is something that I will personally be thankful for, for the rest of my life.
Whatever Tubby Smith does next in his life, he’ll do it with everything he has. College Basketball will miss having Coach Smith roaming the sidelines with his gentle but demanding demeanor. There will never be another Coach Tubby Smith.
Tubby, thank you for the memories and for what you did for the game of College Basketball.