Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How Did UK Basketball Come To This?

My former boss at WKYT-TV, Dick Gabriel, writes a very insightful column on WKYT's website. It basically traces the history of all the major decisions made by Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart. I am certain Dick holds a good relationship with Barnhart and that much of the information in the article came firsthand.

However, there are some things I agree with and others I do not.

Let's start with what no one wants to acknowledge: the underlying racism of some UK fans.

Dick writes, "..don’t kid yourself, it was there. From the season ticket cancellations the day (Tubby) Smith was hired to the cowardly, anonymous phone calls to the talk shows – a faction of UK "fans" made themselves clear."

On that point, Dick could not be more right. I remember the day Tubby was hired. Shortly after returning from the news conference at UK's Patterson Office Tower, I was back in the WKYT sports office working on scripts and tapes for the next newscast. As you might imagine, the phones were ringing off the hook from people wanting the very latest on the hiring.

One phone call in particular still remains vivid in my mind 12 years later.

{Phone Rings}

Me: "27 Sportsfirst, this is Michael."

Caller: "Did UK hire a new coach today?"

Me: "Yes, sir. Tubby Smith is the new coach."

Caller: "You mean they're gonna let a nigger coach Kentucky?"

{I abruptly end the call}

So for all those fans who like to downplay the racism or its effect on Tubby's departure, give it up. The evidence is too real and too prevalent.

And I strongly believe it was that racism that would not allow some people to give Tubby the credit he deserved.

Dick wrote that it was hard to argue with the results of "five SEC championships, five SEC tournament titles, a single season that saw his team race undefeated through both the league and tournament (only to be done in by Dwyane Wade) and three trips to the Elite Eight," yet some UK fans went out of their way to do so.

By definition, racism means a lack of fairness or equal treatment due to some one's race or ethnic background.

Does anyone really think a white coach at UK would have received the same amount of criticism with such a successful record? Take your time on your answer. I'll wait.

There is one area of Barnhart's track record where Dick and I differ. It seems as though his account of Kentucky's pursuit of Billy Donovan comes from Barnhart's side, while mine comes from Donovan's camp.

It is important for everyone to understand that in situations where a coach is being courted by another school, the vast majority of the negotiations are not done between the AD and the coach, but rather intermediaries. So it should be no surprise to hear that Barnhart and Donovan may have only had one face-to-face meeting regarding the UK coaching vacancy.

However, that doesn't mean there wasn't more Barnhart could have done to bring Donovan to Lexington if he was truly UK's number one choice.

Had Donovan always considered what it would be like to coach in the NBA? Yes.

Did Rick Pitino advise him to seriously consider the idea? Yes.

Despite knowing Donovan's interest in the Orlando Magic and the organization's interest in him, should Barnhart have just given up and not come back with another offer to Donovan? Absolutely not!

If Donovan was the choice, then Barnhart should have done whatever it took--within reason--to get Donovan to accept the job. You don't just give up on your top candidate because another team can offer him more money. You sell the university, the program and the lifestyle that comes with it.

While most college jobs can't compare to the NBA, Kentucky sure as hell can!

And Barnhart should always remember that when hiring a basketball coach at UK, especially if he has to do it again this year.


Anonymous said...

So the obvious question. Boosters contacted Pitino to come back to UK but did the administration have any idea this contact took place? Was it at the direction of the admin or the boosters just gauging interest in case a move is made?

lighthouse said...

I remember when they ran Adoloh Rupp out of town. They used the state mandatory retirement age to get rid of him. I'm sure he would have stayed a few more years if he could have. I also remember all the criticism Joe Hall took while coaching and winning at UK. Tubby Smith wasn't the only coach that got criticized while coaching at Kentucky and while every fan base has it's share of idiots I believe most of the criticism Tubby received was not racially motivated.

Anonymous said...

I am so tired of hearing about KY basketball being racist. Some people are racist, but most are not. There is always going to be a select few people who will always remain idiots. But to say that KY is the only school who has racist fans is ridiculous.

Maybe you should say that Duke is a racist school. They have a white coach, and at least 3 white players on the floor at all times.

Anonymous said...

There is certainly some truth to a lot of what you have here. There were certainly some fans that probably never would have been happy even if Tubby had won several NCAA titles because of his race.

Ultimately, I think Tubby left because he did not need all of the BS that comes along with the UK job if you are not Rick Pitino and you are not winning like he did. However, I was not on the "inside" when he left so you could be right.

Ultimately it looks like if he was run out that it has certainly back fired on us. Additionally, I don't think there has been a better man and role model for our players ever as a UK BB coach that Tubby was.

If he had only recruited better or a few breaks had gone our way maybe he we wouldn't be having this conversation because we certainly know the patience of UK fans is not going to change - right or wrong.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy your blog but have only been familiar with it for the last couple of weeks. So far everything you say seems to be accurate. I know people have ripped you for your Pitino comments etc. but I feel you have no reason to make these things up. Especially when you corrected your post when you received more information.

However, I don't feel your point about racism is fair. Are there UK fans that are racist? Sure. Are there UK fans who quit supporting UK because they hired a black coach? Sure. But what percentage of Big Blue Nation are we talking about? Maybe less than 1 percent. We still have the greatest following of fans at the college level in the country even when we had a black coach. The reason Tubby didnt get the credit he deserved had nothing to do with the color of his skin. It had to do with following a legend. Same thing happened with Joe B. when he followed Adolph Rupp. No one supported Joe B. even though he won a National Title.

You obviously follow multiple sports at the college and professional level. This phenomen is common. Whether it's a hall of fame pitcher or quarterback, etc. The guy that fills his shoes never lives up to their expectations.

Don't make this about race when racism has nothing to do with it.

Thank you again for your coverage of the Cats.

Go Big Blue!

Anonymous said...

The Pitino story is true. The only part left out is that Pitino is not interested. Calipari is next. My understanding is 4 mil/yr is the offer. No idea whether he takes it or not. After that, they go after Donovan and then Travis Ford. My guess, and that's all, Calipari is coming. Regarding Tubby, virtually everyone liked him and race has very, very little to do with it. Kentucky's basketball program was headed in the wrong direction because of recruiting. Under Tubby we had 10 or more losses in 5of his 10 seasons. His offense was stagnant and went on 10 minute scoring droughts all the time. He was a great person and a really good coach. He just wasn't recruiting effectively or meeting expectations for our program, now or for the future. Michael Eaves is a good friend of mine, and he has never made our friendship about race. I know when he looks at this completely objectively, in the end of Tubby's tenure, we were a boring team to watch with a lack of talent for the caliber of program, and had far more losses and far fewer tournament wins than he or any KY fan expects.

Michael T said...

I am 54 years old, and have been a KY Fan since i was in the 7th grade. I sat doing my homework to Caywood and Ralph as great like Dan Issell and Kyle Masey played their heart out for the Wildcats.

I was not a huge fan of Joe B Hall as I felt he held the horses too tight to the leash, as in taking away Jay Schidlers confidence to shoot. I loved the Pitino Years
as in the full pressure defense and the t shirt that said "if you don't want us to run up the score, Get a Defense."

I was sad when Rick left, and wasn't wild about the choice of Tubby, but it had nothing to do with color.... I remember watching him as coach of Georgia as KY was putting a big beating down and Tubby just sat there with his scowl on his face and quit coaching and let his team just continue without timeouts or instruction... and I remember how Ky came back from LSU because they didn't give up and Pitino continue to coach as if he believed they could win that game. I remember thinking I was glad we didn't have a coach like Tubby that just gave up.... Well years later I grew to love Tubby and his loyalty to the KY program and I loved the way he expected his players to live up to certain standards.

But I also felt that his style of ball wasn't working to get to the final 4 and thats where we all want to go.
I did think that he was being treated unfairly and I was glad he finally went where he was better appreciated was able to have a new chance at the success he is enjoying....

So for me and many it is just simply about basketball and the only color we see is blue.....

tj5o said...

There are several reasons why UK Basketball has got into the trouble they are in. One would be the running off of Tubby Smith, one of the best coaches in Div 1 Basketball, a coach who is #1 in consecutive 20 or more win season among ALL active coaches in D-1 BASKETBALL.
Ky fans wanted to win NCAA Tournaments, Kentucky had almost gone 9 years without making the final four since 1998,no matter how many games or SEC regular season titles or SEC Tournaments he won, it wasnt enough to keep them happy.
We as Ky fans are getting what we deserve, it might not be so much Billy's fault were losing, Karma dose come around and kiss you on the face now and then, think of this as a kick in the butt. Kentucky wasnt happy with a coach who won over 81% of the time when you take away his last two seasons, even we he left Ky his winning average was near or ABOVE PITINO'S.
People might be saying Tubby couldnt recruit, that's why were in the shape we are, WRONG AGAIN. Tubby Smith is on record at UK for having the best recruited class EVER TO PLAY FOR UK. Crawford,Rondo,Bradley,and Morris. What would of happen had Morris and Rondo not gone pro, Jodie Meeks would of stayed healthy along with D.Jasper?
Tubby recruited Meeks and put Patterson in the bag, as a matter of fact UK lost out on J.Lucas becuase of Tubby leaving. He is a basketball jones.....the best defensive team that was ever assembled in the history of the SEC(im my opinion)was that which was put together with Hayes, Hawkins, Daniels, Fitch...and so on.
Ky has cried about not winning a tittle, now they are crying about something Tubby Smith done around %81% of the time...Win.

M said...

I think you are correct in your assessment of racism. I spent too much time defending Tubby from people that had to wrack their brains to find a "reason" they didn't like him. I was shocked and disappointed because I wouldn't have expected some of these folks to be closet racists. But I think things are changing some in this area. I see younger people as such an improvement on us middle-aged folks. I have hope. But I got sick to my stomache realizing that people I thought well of hated our coach because of his race.

David said...

University of Kentucky basketball has millions of fans. Most of the fans are intelligent, congenial, and passionate about basketball. To label the university and its supporters as racist based on one phone call is unfair. That phone call could have occurred anywhere in the country. As a journalist you must realize the force of your arguments is diminished by focusing on isolated inanities. I recently attended the SEC basketball tournament. Even though Kentucky had a down year its fans outnumbered some of the schools a hundred to one. Our fans supported their predominatly black team with the same enthusiasm as they supported Pat Riley, Dan Issel and Rex Chapman. The UK fans make the UK basketball program special and they are the reason the university and its athletic programs will continue to prosper. I would like to remind you Tubby Smith resigned his position at UK to take the post at Minnesota. He was not fired. I do not recall Tubby claiming to be the victim of rascism or even that he was treated poorly. It may come as a surprise to you , but many fans were sad to see Tubby leave. Fan expectations were just as high for Joe Hall and Rick Pitino as they were for Tubby. Was Tubby treated worse because he was black? Ask Billy Gillispie. Kentucky coaches are expected to perform as well as the tradition demands. Many of our rivals like to take cheap shots at Kentucky during rebuilding years ; but remember, we always come back. Go Blue Jones73

taildraggergirl said...

This is just a personal observation. I think Tubby Smith is a good coach and a great person. I don't think he was "run off" because of race. For me personally his style of play and coaching was just not exciting after the Pitino years and I think that is what Kentucky fans have come to expect after those glory days.

We expect the team to be exciting to watch whether they are winning or losing. We expect the coach to be an ambassador of the school and it's program, even the state of Kentucky. Now, I'm sure there isn't any serious chance of Pitino returning (though I believe there would be dancing in the streets) but with this next hire, Kentucky needs to consider more carefully the benchmark Pitino set with the next coach. Billy Donavan I believe would be a good fit. Travis Ford...he's young, but brings a lifetime of experience with Kentucky basketball to the table. All I know is, the next one better be THE man or Kentucky may be looking for a new AD as well.

roger said...

UK and thr fan base is a joke
i lived in ky coming from miami
and being hispanic i was prejudice against

UK wins 2000 tnite and no one cares
thr legacy is draped in racism