VCU’s Shaka Smart linked to opening at UT

Shaka Smart has taken VCU to the NCAA tourney each of the past five years. Photo Courtesy: John Murden
Shaka Smart has taken VCU to the NCAA tourney each of the past five seasons.
Photo Courtesy: John Murden

By Alex Gustafson

The Dallas Morning News reported Wednesday that Virginia Commonwealth University coach Shaka Smart is the front-runner to replace Rick Barnes, who was fired Sunday after 17 seasons in Austin.

Sources told Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News that athletic director Steve Patterson would like to have a new coach before the college basketball world turns their attention to the Final Four this weekend in Indianapolis.

Barnes, who reached the NCAA Tournament 16 times in his 17 seasons as coach, guided the Longhorns to five Sweet Sixteen appearances, three Elite 8 appearances and one Final Four appearance. However, Texas had not reached the second weekend of the tournament since 2008.

During his time at Texas, Barnes’ teams produced 16 future NBA draft picks, notably Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge and T.J. Ford.

On Tuesday, Barnes agreed to a six-year contract with a $2.25 million annual salary to coach the University of Tennessee Volunteers. He replaces Donnie Tyndall, who was fired amid NCAA violations at his previous post, the University of Southern Mississippi.

Smart led the Rams to the 2011 Final Four as VCU defeated Southern California, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas to reach the national semifinals where they lost to the runner-up, the Butler Bulldogs.

Smart’s success at VCU has led to interest from Illinois, Wake Forest, the University of Maryland, North Carolina State and Marquette in recent offseasons but decided to remain in Richmond.

The young and innovative Smart presently earns a base salary of $1.57 million, with $695,750 in incentives. During his tenure, forward/center Larry Sanders was selected 15th overall in the 2010 NBA Draft.

His “Havoc” defense has helped the Rams to the five consecutive appearances. According to coach Smart’s bio: “…in 2012-13, VCU’s 422 total steals shattered the Atlantic 10 single-season mark of 352 set by Xavier’s 1998-99 squad. The 422 steals is the 18th most in NCAA Division I basketball history. Last season [2013-14], the Rams led all teams yet again in steals with 391, 21 more than any other team.”

Late Wednesday night, reported Smart’s compensation if he were to agree to a buyout is $1.8 million. If he were to leave the school prior to May 1 he would owe VCU a $500,000 buyout and his contract contains a clause which states if he were to become the head coach at another institution, that school would have to play the Rams in a home-and-home series, or pay VCU $250,000.

The Star-Telegram disclosed terms of a possible contract between Smart and the Longhorns Thursday (five years, $16 million) an average of 2.3 million annually and that UT hopes to introduce Smart as coach Friday.