Shaka Smart leaving VCU to coach Texas basketball
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Shaka Smart finally received an offer he couldn't resist.
Smart was introduced as the new basketball coach at Texas on Friday, leaving Virginia Commonwealth for the Longhorns after turning down several suitors, including UCLA, since taking VCU to the NCAA Final Four in 2011.
He also reportedly received offers from Southern California, North Carolina State, Maryland, Marquette, Illinois and Wake Forest over the years.
Smart, 37, said this job was different.
''To me, it was a no brainer,'' said Smart, wearing a burnt orange tie to his first news conference at Texas. ''I don't want to take away from any other program, but there is only one University of Texas. There is unbelievable potential here.''
Texas men's athletics director Steve Patterson said he did not interview other candidates.
''We looked out on the horizon and said `who do we really want?''' Patterson said. ''Somebody all of us (schools) have had an eye on for some time. Somebody who is a great and dedicated coach. Somebody who plays an exciting style of basketball.''
Patterson said Smart received a seven-year contract, the first six fully guaranteed, with average compensation of about $3 million.
Smart is the first African-American men's basketball coach at Texas. Charlie Strong, the school's first African-American football coach, completed his first season in December. Smart said he did not realize the historical significance until friends told him.
''I take that really seriously,'' he said.
Smart has won at least 26 games in each of his six seasons at VCU, a feat matched only by Duke. His teams reached the NCAA Tournament five times. He is leaving for a Texas program that hasn't been able to nudge Kansas from atop the Big 12. But the Longhorns have the wealthiest athletic department in the country and easy access to some of the nation's biggest recruiting grounds in Dallas and Houston.
Smart gained prominence during VCU's run to the Final Four in 2011. The Rams went from a questionable selection, barely getting a bid and playing in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio, to beating five major-conference schools to reach the national semifinals, the last victory coming against Kansas in San Antonio.
The Rams (26-10 this season) have been back in the NCAA Tournament each of the past four seasons, but were eliminated in the round of 32 in 2012 and 2013, and lost their opening game in overtime each of the past two seasons.
There were mitigating circumstances this season. VCU lost Briante Weber, the leader of their full-court ''havoc'' defensive style, on Jan. 31 to a knee injury, and played the last 1 1/2 months with scoring leader Treveon Graham bothered by a high left ankle sprain, sometimes even sidelined.
Smart said he intends to play the same full-court basketball at Texas but with the flexibility to make use of an offense of taller players than he had at VCU.
''Like any coach, I'm gonna fit what we do around personnel we have,'' Smart said.
Asked about suggestions that his full-court defense might not translate to the power-conference level, Smart responded, ''It translated pretty well a few years ago in San Antonio.''
Smart replaced Rick Barnes, who was fired last week after 17 seasons at Texas. Barnes' teams played in the NCAA Tournament 16 of those 17 seasons. But after reaching the Sweet 16 or beyond five times between 2002 and 2008 - including the 2003 Final Four and two Elite 8 appearances - the Longhorns have not returned despite some rosters that included NBA-bound talent.
Texas has eight returning players. A ninth, 6-foot-11 freshman Myles Turner, has announced he will enter the NBA draft. Sophomore point guard Isaiah Taylor is considering the same move, according to teammate Prince Ibeh, and Jai Lucas, a member of Barnes' staff.
By leaving before May 1, Smart owes VCU a $500,000 buyout. His contract also contains a provision that if he became a head coach at another institution, that school would have to compensate VCU in a home-and-home series, or pay VCU $250,000. Patterson said Texas would fulfill those obligations.