Shaka Smart would have been comfortable staying put at VCU, but when Texas came calling it was time to challenge himself to do something different.
From Dan Monson to Andy Enfield, the pattern of small-name college basketball coaches making the jump to Power Five coaching jobs following heretofore unprecedented run in the NCAA Tournament has become a common occurance.
Monson was a pioneer of this trend back in 1999, bolting for the Minnesota Golden Gophers coaching vacancy after leading the then-unknown Gonzaga Bulldogs to the Elite Eight. Enfield, meanwhile, had more recently taken the reins at USC thanks to his impressive run with Florida Gulf Coast in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
Many people in the college basketball realm expected this trend to continue after the 2011 season. Shaka Smart, then-head coach at Virginia Commonwealth, had just taken his Rams on a miraculous run to the Final Four.
Offers started piling up for Smart, but he remained content with his situation in Richmond, Virginia. Smart signed an extension with the Rams, much to the rejoice of the VCU faithful.
Fast forward four years later – the Rams remained a nationally relevant program, but had just been bounced from the the second round of the tournament at the hands of the Ohio State Buckeyes. VCU had yet to return to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament after its Final Four appearance.
It was in mid-April of 2015, then, that Smart announced a change. He was headed to Austin after accepting the head coaching gig with the Texas Longhorns. It wasn’t the easy decision, but Smart felt it was the right one.
“In terms of leaving, I had an unbelievable situation [at VCU]. I could have stayed there forever,” Smart said in an interview on The Seth Davis Show. “To be honest, for us as a family, between Maya and Zora and myself, we had reached such a comfort zone that it would have been very, very easy to be there for the rest of our lives.”
So why part ways with said comfort zone? And why accept this new job offer now rather than preceding the 2011 Final Four run?
“Part of it was trying to challenge yourself to do something different, grow in a different way,” Smart said. “It was a very, very challenging decision because you don’t want to leave people you love and you’re so comfortable with. Any time you make a tough decision, you can’t look back, and you got to move forward and I’m excited about where we are.”
And there’s good reason for such excitement.
Now in his second year with the Longhorns, Smart has already landed two of the top 2016 prospects in the nation in Jarrett Allen and Andrew Jones. Texas does have early blemishes on its non-conference schedule, but growing pains were to be expected for a team with younger talent.
But that doesn’t mean the future isn’t bright in Austin. We’ve all witnessed what Smart is capable of as a head coach based on his time at VCU – combining his coaching and development skills with the resources at a school like Texas should have the Hook ‘Em faithful grinning from ear-to-ear.