RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — In the Spring of 2009, then-VCU Head Coach Anthony Grant bolted Richmond for a job with the Alabama Crimson Tide. VCU then hired Shaka Smart to his first head coaching position.
In his first year as head coach, the Rams did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but they did play in and win the College Basketball invitational. That set the stage for a magical run during the 2010-2011 season, in which VCU was one of the last four teams to receive an at-large bid into the Big Dance and wound up making it all the way to the Final Four, eventually falling to Butler in the national semifinal.
The Rams have not made it to the tournament’s second weekend since then, but Shaka Smart has been the hot name whenever a coaching vacancy pops up. He has turned down jobs at UCLA (with its incredible championship legacy) and Marquette (in his home state of Wisconsin). This season, the University of Texas at Austin has an opening after firing Rick Barnes.
Shaka Smart’s name has popped up again.
For his part, Smart and his players say the coach is always very up front with those close to him as far as what he is considering.
Before beginning NCAA Tournament play this year in Portland, his players were asked why their coach has stayed in Richmond so long. Senior Treveon Graham brought up loyalty.
“After every year that he gets the calls, he always lets us know he going to be here longer than a lot of us. I mean, it give us that confidence to know he’s going to be here after every year,” Graham said.
Junior Melvin Johnson responded as well.
“To piggyback, once news come out there’s a job offering, he calls us immediately, with a smile, you can hear it in his voice, he has a lot of humor behind it. He’s not going anywhere,” Johnson said. “He always say he’s going to be here long after we leave. We’re pretty confident he’s a loyal guy. If anything were to happen, I’m sure he would let us know.”
After his players left the dais in Portland, Smart related how his own college experience may have influenced his long tenure at mid-major VCU.
Bill Brown recruited Smart to Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. After Smart’s first year at Kenyon, Brown left for another job.
“That experience had an influence in my life in general. That was one of the worst days in my life, to be honest with you. It really shook me up,” Smart said in Portland. “As coaches, I consider us to be really close to our players. Obviously they’re a big factor in any type of decisions we make.”
Smart went on to detail how much he enjoyed seeing his three seniors from the 2014-2015 season (Graham, Briante Weber, and Jared Guest) mature from their high school recruitment to their final days on the court.
Do not expect the temptation to stop anytime soon. VCU has made the NCAA Tournament for five consecutive years, and that spans a move to the more difficult Atlantic Ten Conference from the Colonial Athletic Conference. If Smart does not bolt for Texas, other schools will inevitably come calling.
On the dais in Portland, Shaka Smart laid out his final determinant for staying at VCU or leaving: “You owe it to your family to do the right thing for your family and do what you think makes the most sense for the people closest to you.”