Few coaches leave their offices in the north end zone of Royal-Memorial Stadium, cross San Jacinto Blvd., and step into the sprawling academic environs at the University of Texas.
Sometimes, you wonder if Shaka Smart is wasting his life with that whistle.
“When I first got here, someone told me that you’re not allowed to talk to faculty. This is true,” Smart said Monday. “So that scared me a little bit. One of the things I enjoy about being on a college campus is being around some really talented people.
“Fortunately, I learned as I went on, that’s not the case,” he added. “I actually am allowed to talk to faculty.”
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In a 15-minute talk at Monday’s UT faculty council meeting, Smart didn’t spend a nanosecond rehashing his first season, the heart-breaking finish against Northern Iowa in the NCAA Tournament or what to make of Isaiah Taylor’s future. Inside the Main Building, he didn’t talk basketball at all.
Addressing the same group football coach Charlie Strong spoke to in March, Smart gave UT faculty members his thumbnail biography about being raised by a single mother in Oregon, Wisc. “She didn’t have a lot of rules for us, other than don’t come home with a bad grade. To her, a bad grade was a B,” he said.
Smart was a history major at Kenyon College, a Division III school in Ohio. He considered coach Bill Brown something of a father figure. But Smart also forged solid relationships with the professors on campus, some of whom he still communicates with 20 years later.
Those professors, Smart said, helped him learn how to write. By graduation, he had written a piece on how to construct individual workouts for “Winning Hoops,” a coaching trade publication.
“When I left,” Smart said, “I was able to write an honors thesis for history that was over 100 pages long and got some really good feedback.”
Smart, who once considered becoming a university professor, stuck with coaching. He led Virginia Commonwealth to the 2011 Final Four and guided Texas to a fourth-place finish in the Big 12 this past season, his first at the school.
“Our purpose in our basketball program is to transform our guys’ lives by helping them become the best version of themselves,” Smart told faculty members.
Smart also addressed his desire to change the academic culture within the athletic program, which the American-Statesman first reported in March. “You can manage guys for eligibility or you can coach them for graduation,” Smart said. “I think it’s very important for us to do the latter.”
Smart made it clear he’s open to meeting as many professors as possible.
“If I had more time, I’d love to just sit in your class and learn from some of the things you do,” he told the crowd. “I’m sure there are people here doing some ground-breaking stuff and stuff I would love to learn about.”