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See, that wasn’t so hard now, was it? After months and months of speculation and hand-wringing, the University of Minnesota and new AD Norwood Teague announced that Tubby Smith will coach the Gophers until the 2016-17 season, putting to rest the questions of when and if Smith would be back in the first place. Smith retains the same salary as before ($1.75M per year), though details of a buyout have not yet been announced. In his previous deal the U was required to pay $1.5 million if it fired him without violation

The Smith signing is important for a few reasons. First and foremost it gets the issue out of the way so the team can move on an focus on more important things, like succeeding this year. Having the distraction of a coach’s contract festering as the season draws near does nothing but distract.

Second, it maintains continuity from year to year for recruiting purposes. Having the assurance that the coach who recruits a high school player will actually still be the coach when that player arrives on campus does wonders on the recruiting trail. Now that the issue has been resolved, Tubby can go after important recruits without having to convince them that he’ll be present when they arrive on campus. For the new freshmen coming aboard and highly sought-after recruits, this is a necessity.

Third, and perhaps more importantly, this assures us that Tubby Smith will be the coach of the Gophers for the near future. And that’s a good thing. I’ve been a proponent of Smith’s during the past couple of underwhelming years and believe that this team is better off this far into his tenure than it was at the beginning. Some don’t agree, but the fact is he’s brought in some of the best talent Minnesota high school basketball has to offer, brought the Gophers to back-to-back tournament appearances, and elevated the program to a point where people actually have legitimate expectations year in and year out. Bottom line, he has the program in a position to succeed, which is part (not all) of what we brought him in to do.

Now, that’s not saying it’s all been peachy along the way, but between transfers, injuries and on-court performances that were probably outside of his control Smith has coached without a full deck for the better part of the past two years, and seeing what he’s done without all of his resources has been encouraging. We saw amazing development in Andre Hollins, for one, and Rodney Williams finally seems to be making the leap to team leader. In fact, Smith now has one of the strongest teams at his disposal as we start the 2012-13 season – at least on paper.

This can all be coupled with the fact that there honestly just isn’t anyone better out there to take his place. Here we have a nationally recognized coach doing legitimately good things on the recruiting trail and with player development. Letting him walk away because guys tore their ACL or became clubhouse cancers or just straight up went crazy would have been a huge mistake. Extending him ensures that we’ll at least get to see what he can (hopefully) do with a team at full strength.

However, that’s not to say that this is his second and final chance. We can debate whether or not he should be held accountable for the performance the past two years and if some of the transfers were actually his fault until we’re blue in the face. The reality is that it’s now up to him to prove that he can get the job done. He hasn’t been given a full deck in more than two years and is being unfairly judged using criteria that assumes he has every player resource at his disposal. However, should he fail to meet expectations now with healthy guys he’s brought in himself, then it’s probably time to cut the cord and move to someone else. For now let’s just be glad that we retained a quality coach to look over a team that he’s built himself.

Other Notes:

Tubby also dropped some other interesting nuggets in his press conference today, most notably the fact that Mo Walker is 100% healthy and ready to get on the court. Amelia Rayno provided some good points including the fact that Trevor Mbakwe has not practiced yet, but is on schedule according to his doctors and trainers. I’m no doctor, so I can’t say if he’s behind or ahead of the norm, but it sounds like the team doctors anticipate him being ready for the start of the season, so that has to be viewed as a good thing at this point.

Further Reading: