Woody’s criticism of Smart misguided

VCU men’s basketball head coach Shaka Smart came under fire this past week from Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Paul Woody after the Rams lost to Stephen F. Austin University in the second-round of the NCAA Tournament. Photo by Audry Dubon.

Colin Kennedy
Sports Editor

Paul Woody of the Richmond Times-Dispatch recently wrote a column claiming VCU’s investment in head coach Shaka Smart has not seen a sufficient return to date.

Smart has been successful in building a perennial contender in Richmond, Woody said, but hasn’t won enough NCAA tournament games to warrant the nearly $1.5 million he is earning annually through salary and benefits.

Woody raised some valid points, but received heaps of criticism from local fans. While it is often the job of a columnist to stir the metaphorical pot for his or her readership, Woody may have gone too far in calling out the Rams’ coach.

There are several variables by which one can assess the value of a head basketball coach. Among others, you can look at a team’s improvement, overall record or even the revenue that coach helps bring to a university. In Woody’s case, he speaks specifically to tournament wins. Although accurate in his diagnosis, that perspective is fairly short sighted.

The Rams made Smart the Atlantic 10’s highest paid coach because he almost single-handedly transformed VCU from a mid major to a national brand. His 2011 Final Four run got things started, but Smart’s impact hasn’t diminished significantly since.

Sure, VCU’s latest premature tournament exit was tough to swallow. Any time your team is unexpectedly bounced from postseason play, the loss is going to sting. But to say that Smart’s two tournament wins in the last three years makes him overpaid is a bit farfetched.

Only three programs nationwide have won 26 or more games in each of the last three seasons. VCU is one, and two college basketball legends coach the others. To mention Smart in the same breath as Mike Krzyzewski of Duke University and Jim Boeheim of Syracuse University should speak for itself. But in his column, Woody didn’t consider  the regular season.

If you want to look at Smart’s value in terms of cash flow and exposure for the school, we shouldn’t really need any statistics. But in case you aren’t convinced by the Rams’ emergence into the national spotlight, consider this: Freshman application figures spiked by more than 10 percent the year after Smart’s Rams reached the Final Four in 2011. Moreover, online bookstore transactions jumped by more than 3,000 percent, and VCU saw a 149 percent increase in donations and gifts to the university.

We’re barely scratching the surface when we talk about the financial figures Smart has helped accumulate for the Rams. VCU Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin actually said he considers Smart one of the country’s most underpaid coaches when I spoke to him in the fall.

So why are we having this conversation?

Every year we hear the same rumblings about big-name programs yearning for VCU’s head coach. Schools like North Carolina State University, the University of Illinois and the University of California Los Angeles have all offered Smart hefty contracts for his services. But each time he has elected to remain in Richmond.

This year it was Marquette University who reached out to Smart about filling its coaching vacancy. But yet again, despite several false reports, Smart demonstrated unwavering loyalty to the Rams.

He hasn’t just put VCU on the map. Smart has built the foundation for a potentially historical basketball program with the Rams.

Duke wasn’t Duke before Coach K, and VCU wasn’t much before Shaka.

Smart has the opportunity of a lifetime here in Richmond, and to judge Smart based on three abbreviated postseason appearances simply isn’t justifiable.

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