Dear Coach Smith,
Or should I call you Orlando or Tubby? At any rate, I want to thank you for your years of service coaching the University of Kentucky’s Men’s Basketball Team. I write this to thank you directly for bringing championship number seven to the Bluegrass State. And thank you for giving me one of the best nights of my life: March 30, 1998.
Thank you for being the first person to defeat Duke’s Coach K in a regional final. Thank you for outcoaching Coach K in coming back from 17 points down in the second half. Thank you for having faith in Cameron Mills.
Thank you for being the only coach in SEC basketball history to go 19-0 (16-0 regular season, 3-0 SEC Tournament).
Thank you for Chuck Hayes.
Thank you for nine years of grace and poise on the sideline. Thank you for the five SEC regular season an the five SEC Tournament titles. Thanks for the winning 76% of your games here.
When you left, I wished you well and I understood why you left for Minnesota. The glare and the spotlight of being the head coach at UK is a job that not a lot of people can handle and I can’t imagine the toll that must have put on you and your family, especially your son, Saul. I think because of the coach you followed and the coach that is now in Lexington, it’s fashionable to lump you in with other, less successful coaches (Gillispie, Sutton) and dismiss your accomplishments. And with your defensive minded style of play, and low scoring games, your legacy is being viewed a lot differently than if you had just quickened the pace a little bit.
The familiar refrain is that you brought title number 7 back to Lexington and did it with “Pitino’s players.” While that may have a little bit of truth to it, it’s also fair that the 1998 team is one team to win the NCAA title without the services of an NBA first round selection or an NCAA All-American on the roster. And that’s a feat that I feel deserves praise, instead of derision. In fact, all your success in Lexington were mostly from players that were overlooked by other schools and that you coached up to a championship level, truly the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.
Recruiting was never your thing, and I kinda get that, it proved to be your downfall here. As good as your teams from 2003, 04 and 05 were, a lot of folks in the Big Blue Nation, myself included, believed that just one blue-chip McDonald’s All-American would have been enough to move those really, really good teams to greatness. And once again, the guy currently sitting in your old seat has done quite the opposite. He’s bringing top notch players in with top notch character and he’s returned the Cats to where they belong, competing for championships and competing for the best high school talent.
One last point, that cannot be overlooked, thank you for healing some wounds. Thank you for finally putting to rest some of the demons that the University of Kentucky and it’s basketball team have been fighting since Rupp and the 1966 Texas Western game. Thank you for helping us show the world that we’re not all a bunch of raving, crazed racists. We’re going to get on our coaches based on wins, losses and championships (or lack thereof) and not because of the color of his skin. Thank you.
One day, in the near future, I hope the university’s athletic association does the right thing and put your name where it belongs, up in the rafters of Rupp Arena along side the other people that have made Kentucky Basketball what it is today.
Thank you for everything, Tubby.