- Shaka Smart has gone from blockbuster to bust, at least temporarily, but will get it turned around.
- Smart has five years left on his contract but is a disappointing 30-30 in almost two full seasons at Texas.
- A top 10 recruiting class paced by a commitment from four-star point guard Matt Coleman should stop the bleeding.
Shaka Smart is all about accountability.
And he needs to practice what he’s forever preaching.
“The only way that changes is to be better,” Smart said. “Be solid on defense, take care of the ball and make your free throws down the stretch. We’ve been in a lot of close games, and it still comes down to grabbing the bull by the horns and taking accountability of this. That’s everyone in our program.”
And it starts at the top with the skinny guy making $3 million a year.
Smart hasn’t shirked his responsibility in this dreadful 10-17 season, but he hasn’t gone overboard in owning it either.
He hasn’t remotely gotten it done. By any measurement, his second Longhorn team has been a colossal failure. It remained on that downward trajectory Saturday when it fell 64-61 at home to a Kansas State team that had lost six of its last seven games.
A Texas team that was picked to finish third in the best conference in the land is hovering near the Big 12 basement with a 4-10 league mark, depending on the outcome of equally dreadful Oklahoma’s night game with Oklahoma State.
Texas hasn’t won a single game in 12 tries away from the Erwin Center. It played a weak nonconference schedule. Of its 10 overall wins, just six have come against teams with winning records. Of those six, only Iowa State is probably a lock for the NCAA Tournament. It’s struggled mightily in what Kansas State’s Bruce Weber rightfully called “an unforgiving league.”
This Texas team is going nowhere. And neither is Smart, who is 30-30 at Texas.
But he’s done a poor job of giving his team what it needs to get over the hump. Like at the end of Saturday’s game, when Longhorn guard Kerwin Roach Jr. looked utterly confused. With Texas down by three and 1.6 seconds left, Roach received the inbounds pass much too close to the end line and launched a desperation prayer after the buzzer.
That’s poor coaching. Oklahoma State’s Brad Underwood might be Big 12 coach of the year, and his Cowboys were picked to finish seventh. How about the job Jamie Dixon has done in Fort Worth, taking a TCU team picked last to a 17-9 record?
In two short seasons, Smart’s gone from blockbuster to bust, at least temporarily. The no-brainer hire out of Virginia Commonwealth was supposed to be the next big thing in Austin — and still will be, it says here — but then so was Charlie Strong after setting the world on fire at Louisville.
Smart should know the lay of the land here. He’s had a front-row seat for the unceremonious firing of both the football and baseball coaches in the past eight months. Strong was given three short years because of three atrocious losing seasons. Augie Garrido was shown the door after missing the NCAA Tournament three times in five years, and he was just the winningest baseball coach in the history of the game. Smart knows the pressure, even with the security of five years left on his contract.
There is zero pressure on Smart at the moment, and there shouldn’t be. A top 10 recruiting class headlined by a four-star point guard should stop the bleeding, unless, of course, Jarrett Allen breaks Smart’s heart and leaves for greener NBA pastures this summer.
I still think he’s a good hire and will get this program back to the level Rick Barnes had it during his heyday. Smart’s too sharp, too good a recruiter, too intense not to figure it out.
But that shouldn’t shield him from blame.
“I didn’t think we would have a 4-10 record in the Big 12,” Smart said. “But at the same time, I didn’t anticipate what our record would be. If you did, it’d be 18-0. I’m certainly disappointed our record is what it is. You question what do you do, as a coach. You have to look really close at what you need to do differently. Obviously, we’ve got to get better.”
Other than finding creative ways to lose close games, it’s a real stumper to identify what Texas does consistently well. It ranks last in the Big 12 in scoring, 3-point shooting and free-throw percentage and next-to-last in field-goal percentage, rebound margin, assists, turnover margin … well, you get the picture. Smart smartly threw in a press and a 1-3-1 defense to slow down the Wildcats, who scorched the nets at a 76 percent pace in the opening half. But it wasn’t enough.
Now, as they sit outside NIT consideration and — thankfully — have no interest in the CBI, the Longhorns look forlornly at next season. This year is lost. Only four tough games remain before a window-dressing Big 12 Tournament.
Asked what he’d like to see out of those contests to feel good moving forward, Smart cheekily said, “I think good is a relative term.”
And it’s not related to anything this season.