Since bringing the Havoc offense to Richmond almost two years ago, Shaka Smart has been an icon of VCU basketball.
When VCU took the 2011 NCAA Tournament by storm, Smart’s reputation has far exceeded Richmond city limits.
His fiery swagger on the sideline, wittiness with the media and his unique approach to the game has made Smart a household name. Having taken a mid-major program to the Final Four at the age of 33 doesn’t hurt either.
At this point, it’s not whether Smart will be offered a head coaching position at a power conference school; it’s whether or not he is interested in taking one. The second-year coach signed a two-year contract extension in August 2010, but that hardly makes him obligated to stay, as VCU fans know from experience. The program’s two most recent coaches, Jeff Capel and Anthony Grant, both opted out early to pursue other jobs. In 2006, Capel landed in the Big 12 where he coached Blake Griffin at Oklahoma. Grant left VCU in 2009 for a SEC job at Alabama.
Both men had success at VCU, but not to the extent that Smart has had in less than two full seasons. At his age, Smart has three to four more long-term deals ahead of him, but his next one has potential to be easily the most lucrative. His stock may never be higher than it is right now, so it would be borderline irresponsible to not even consider a bigger job.
Under his current contract, Smart makes $325,000 a year plus incentives, which actually makes it considerably more than that. But at a major program, he would have the opportunity to make several million a year. However, the responsibility that comes with that type of deal is way beyond what he faces at VCU. One or two years of mediocrity almost ensures cause for employment termination at a big market school, while the hangover of this remarkable run would give him plenty of job security with the Rams.
Smart is not the only coach in this position right now. On Thursday, Purdue’s Matt Painter opted out of a deal that had him inked with the Boilermakers through the 2016-2017 season. Despite leading the team to one of its best multiyear runs in school history, Painter left for the University of Missouri where he will make $2 million per year in base salary plus a potential $1 million in incentives.
As a lot of coaches do, Painter left for more money, which is not irrational or immoral by any means. It’s something people do in every line of work when they have earned the opportunity. But at the same time, not all coaches go that route.
University of Richmond’s Chris Mooney signed a 10-year extension with the Spiders on Monday, just days after his team advanced all the way to the Elite Eight. Mooney is another young coach who could have landed a major gig as Painter did, but he chose to continue what he has going.
Smart’s decision in the upcoming weeks will be an interesting one because there is history on both sides for him. Past VCU coaches have gone after the primetime jobs, but his crosstown counterpart Mooney, and fellow CAA coach Jim Larranaga of George Mason stayed with their schools after monumental tournament runs of their own.
One factor that could turn this situation upside down would be if VCU won the national title. It is unheard of for a coach to leave a school after winning it all, and it would be hard to see Smart doing that. However, if the Rams end up falling short, he wouldn’t be quite as obligated to stay.
Regardless of what happens, it’s safe to say that Smart will make the right decision for himself. Should he leave the CAA for the likes of a Big Ten or Big East job, it’s easy to see him winning a championship or two down the road.
But if he does stay, the future in Richmond is undoubtedly bright as well. Two first-round NBA picks since 2009 and a Final Four appearance have put VCU on the map for good. The fan base is passionate and widespread for a mid-major, and the opportunities for recruiting are growing with every game the Rams win.
Whether he stays with VCU or takes on another challenge is up to him, but it’s undeniable that Smart has a long and successful career ahead of him either way.