Shaka Smart seemed like a home run hire for Texas men’s basketball.
Brought in after Rick Barnes was fired in 2015, Smart was coming off of turning VCU into a legitimate program, having made a Final Four and five straight NCAA Tournaments. Barnes had been at Texas for 17 seasons, during which he’d missed just one NCAA Tournament. That’s remarkable consistency, but Texas was hoping for a higher ceiling; Barnes’ 17 trips to the dance produced just four Sweet 16 appearances, with two of those teams making the Elite Eight.
Smart, then, the most buzzworthy coaching prospect, bringing his brand of uptempo pressing basketball to a school like Texas with seemingly unlimited resources, felt like a can’t miss move. Now, though, after just six seasons, the Shaka Smart era at Texas is over.
Texas coach Shaka Smart is headed to Marquette, sources told @stadium.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) March 26, 2021
Smart’s time in Texas didn’t go how anyone would have predicted. He made three tournaments in six years, a marked drop in consistency from the Barnes era. Texas, though, probably would have been okay with a lower floor if it meant a higher ceiling, but Smart’s Longhorns lost in the first round all three times, including last week’s upset at the hands of Abilene Christian.
That said, Smart wasn’t going to be fired this offseason. His seat probably would have been warm heading into next year, but rather than risk that he clearly decided the fit wasn’t optimal, moving instead to Marquette. It’s certainly not an expected move, but on the surface, Marquette might be a better match for Smart, a Wisconsin native. He can certainly coach; much like Archie Miller’s time at Indiana, it just didn’t really work for reasons that are tough to really discern from the outside.
But in college basketball, the optics actually matter; whether he was actually doing a good job or not, programs need to maintain momentum both on and off the court or recruiting dries up and it’s over regardless. That’s why Indiana made their move, and it’s possibly why Smart decided to get out ahead of things and go back home to a job that had appeal to him.
As for Texas, it has to be tempting for a variety of coaching prospects. Obviously seeing how Smart couldn’t make it work is a warning sign, but the rewards of making it work there remain appealing. Someone like Texas Tech’s Chris Beard might be at the top of the Texas list. Rumored to be a contender for the Indiana job, Beard’s ties to Texas might mean he prefers staying in-state if he does make a move.
Chris Beard's buyout to go to another Big 12 school drops to $4 million on April 1, sources told ESPN. $2 million for any school outside the Big 12.
Just, you know, in case anyone is randomly wondering this morning.
— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 26, 2021
That’s just one possible name, though. It’s hard to know where Texas will go here; no one really saw Smart heading to Marquette, either. But another big job is open, and that’s only going to add to this particular offseason’s weirdness for the sport.