Of all the absurdities that occurred over the course of my time in Indianapolis, none showed the ridiculousness of life more than my encounters with the various college coaches. Because of the cramped quarters of the gym and my insistence on meeting anyone I recognized, over the course of the last two days, I spoke with every coach in the SEC except Jeff Lebo and Dennis Felton, Coach K, Tommy Amaker, Mark Fox (Nevada), and a few others. I picked their brains on a number of things and (in the case of a few of our rival coaches) found them much more likeable than I wanted to believe.
In ALL of the cases, the coaches, both publically and privately, said to me that they believed Tubby Smith to be one of the best handful of coaches in America. I wrote down some quotes that I can not attribute to give an example of some of the thinking:
"When it comes to getting a team on the floor to exploit the other team's weaknesses, there is no one better."
"I will not lie to you....I wonder sometimes how he does it with the players he has had, but there is no one better at developing teams."
"If I were the athletic director of a big time college program, Tubby Smith would be one of my first two calls."
What was also interesting is to listen to what other coaches say about the criticism Tubby takes. One told me that if Tubby were to be perceived to have been run off, "you would have to pay ten million dollars a year to get a proven coach to take that thing on."
I did ask a couple about recruiting issues and off the record, one coach said this. "Its all about the staff. People give the head coach the credit for recruiting wins and losses, but these decisions are made based on the job of the assistants....period. If there are recruiting problems there, that is where to look.
Listening to these guys talk was absolutely great. Pearl, Donovan, Kevin Stallings, Odom, and Andy Kennedy all gave me interviews which I will get up this week. I was fortunate to listen to Coach K with some other coaches as he evaluated players he was seeing for the first time (fascinating by the way). And Billy Donovan answered just about every question about college coaching I could have had.
But what struck me about all those guys and the experience is just the level of respect Tubby Smith engenders. EVERY coach that saw him stopped to shake his hand and pay their respects. It is not an exaggeration to say that he is the most universally liked guy in the fraternity. While others often worry about what will happen if Tubby stays, watching these coaches and listening to their words, I wonder what will happen if he leaves....and how that will be received among those that we will need to replace him.