Whether you consider yourself a Tubby Smith apologist or a Tubby Smith detractor or somewhere in the vast region in-between the two, it's doubtful you wouldn't agree that the Kentucky coach is old school.
This certainly has it positives, as Smith is a coach's coach, and his Q rating is extremely high outside the unfriendly confines of the online Big Blue universe.
But it also has its downsides, as evidenced by a two-year recruiting struggle, a sometimes less-than-rosy relationship with the media (local and national) and trouble with the always thorny 'perception' game.
You see, being caretaker at one of the elite hoops programs is no longer just about being a coach, it's about being a CEO. Like the business leader, the postmodern hoops coach has to navigate a minefield of AAU circuits, shady news outlets (thank you, very much), negative recruiting, message board heroes, kids whose egos have been stroked since grade school beyond belief and much more. Simply put, there's no way one man -- even a man with the stature, work ethic and respect level of a Tubby Smith -- can handle all of it.
Ergo, as with the head of an ubersuccessful business like Morgan Stanley, Citibank or Humana, the head man has to flex muscles previously unused: delegation, accountability, media savvy, mastery of new technology, public relations, etc.
For years, this has been the case with major college football coaches, who have offensive coordinators, defensive coordinators, position coaches, video coordinators, player relationship coaches and on and on. Heck, Bobby Bowden of Florida State looks like he hasn't even met half his team before gameday.
But while in-game coaching, Xs and Os, mentoring, defensive teaching, charity work and fundraising may be Tubby's bread and butter, these murkier CEO skills do not seem to be. That's certainly not a damning thing to say about Smith the man, but it could be deadly to Smith the Kentucky basketball coach.
Say what you will about Tubby's success rate, either because of or in spite of his recruiting over the past two years, but he's lost ground in the prestige race. Coaches are actively telling recruits about the latent unrest in the Big Blue Nation, about Tubby's perceived 'slow down' style, effectively about his stewardship of the UK program.
Enter Shawn Finney.
Finney was one of Tubby Smith's top assistants, and his recruiting point man, from 1998-2001, and was a key part of the attainment of Tayshaun Prince, Keith Bogans, Marvin Stone (before he stunk) and Gerald Fitch, among others, before taking the head coaching job at Tulane. These players pretty much encompass the 'Golden Era' of Tubby's regime.
Well, in case you missed it, he's back.
Finney -- and more specifically his role as head of 'basketball operations and recruiting' -- is exactly what a man in Smith's position needed. Like a good CEO, Tubby needs to be able to focus on broader goals, on media relations and in recruiting on 'closing the deal' with prospects. This can include in-home offers, AAU connections and parental relationships; it should not include identifying targets, text messaging daily, seeing every single high school game or setting up and scheduling visits and meetings, etc. For the last few years, it has seemed that the reportedly organization-challenged Tubby (anyone else remember the 'lost' Morris fax fiasco?) has struggled without someone effectively heading up these lesser tasks.
If this summer's recruiting is any indication, Finney -- or if nothing else his presence -- is already paying dividends. Kentucky is at the top of the list for several blue chip recruits, and is being considered by a very impressive, and potentially dangerous, cadre of talented prospects. While some of this is no doubt due to Smith's hands-on approach in the wake of last year's 22-13 debacle, much of it is due to Tubby beeing able to play the role of CEO more effectively than he has been able to in recent years. If this is Finney's doing, then fantastic. It certainly can't hurt.
While much of the bluster about Tubby not being capable of handling the grist mill that is the Kentucky hoops program is just bluster, at least one element is true: he can't do it alone. No one could. It ate Joe B. Hall and Eddie Sutton alive, despite their relying heavily on assistants; Assistants who, it turned out, were not above reproach when it came to getting the job done for their 'CEO.' Such is the importance of having not only effective leadership at the assistant positions, but also of having ethical and well-grounded people at the helm.
In this regard, no one should doubt Tubby Smith. Entrusted as he is with other people's sons, there is no issue with his judgement of character (I don't blame the man for Rashad Carruth being a jerk, nor for flare-ups between players jockeying for playing time on a loaded roster).
But there have been academic and recruiting shortfalls in recent seasons that could have been more effectively handled by player, assistant and head coach. If it took a 'down' year to get these changes put into place, then so be it. Given the tenor of the crriticism Smith has received, the margin for error was getting slimmer and slimmer.
This time, at least in the early returns, Tubby Smith the CEO may have delegated correctly.