Smart’s choices: Pride over payday

Colin Kennedy
Sports Editor

For the third consecutive year, VCU men’s basketball head coach Shaka Smart has turned down a potentially career-changing contract offer to remain in Richmond.

When Smart told UCLA thanks but no thanks in late March, the Bruins became the fourth BCS conference school in the last three seasons to vie for the coach’s services and come up empty-handed.

The University of Minnesota, NC State and Illinois University are among other notable schools rejected by Smart.

His rapid rise began with VCU’s improbable Final Four run in 2011.Two seasons and a couple of conference championship game appearances later, Smart’s name seems to appear in connection with every major coaching vacancy nationwide.

Questions about the coach’s allegiance to the Rams were quieted, however, in a rather loud fashion, when he denied the opportunity to coach an 11-time national champion in California.

Smart’s refusal to follow in the footsteps of legendary coach John Wooden revealed that neither money nor fame were overriding factors in his decision process.

Instead, his choice to stay with VCU seems to be a matter of personal pride.

“I’ve always said, I think that there is an overly simplistic view of when people leave and go somewhere else,” Smart told the Associated Press in June. “They’re all about being greedy and all about money, and all about going to the highest level. On the flip side, if someone stays, they’re the most loyal person in the world.”

Shaka Smart is under contract with VCU through 2023. Photo by Chris Conway
Shaka Smart is under contract with VCU through 2023.
Photo by Chris Conway

Loyalty is something Smart has exhibited more than once in negotiations with the Rams.

Though his annual salary has jumped from $350,000 to $1.5 million in just four seasons, he reportedly requested simple improvements to the program this past offseason instead of larger numbers on his paycheck.

Higher salaries for staff members, better meals for the players and improved traveling conditions apparently took precedent for Smart when finalizing the terms of his contract, according to Sports Illustrated.

Such unselfishness is exactly what has made Smart one of the sport’s most highly sought-after coaches and one of Richmond’s most popular people.

That, and his overwhelming success.

During his tenure as head coach of the Rams, Smart has led VCU to a 111-36 overall record.

According to a conservative estimate from VCU president Michael Rao, Smart’s 2011 Final Four run generated around $15 million in exposure revenue for the university.

And things have only gotten better.

Since 2011, the program has emerged from the middle-ranks of the Colonial Athletic Association to a national stage in the Atlantic 10.

They finished second in the conference one season ago, and the Rams enter the 2013-14 season with arguably their most formidable team that Smart has coached at VCU.

The Rams are no longer sleepers, that’s for sure. But hopefully Rams fans can sleep easily knowing their coach is comfortable here in Richmond.

After all, he’s only signed through 2023.

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