Shaka Smart, a 37-year-old considered one of the top young coaches in college basketball, has agreed in principle to become the new coach at Texas, a high-level source told the American-Statesman.
Smart met face to face with Texas athletic director Steve Patterson on Thursday afternoon in Richmond, Va. School officials were prepared to offer a six-year contract worth around $3 million annually.
Patterson flew to Richmond on a plane owned by a friend of UT President Bill Powers, the Statesman learned. WTVR-TV, the CBS affiliate in Richmond, had a camera stationed at the airport and started live streaming when Patterson and associate AD Arthur Johnson walked onto the tarmac.
Hours later, it was revealed that Smart would hold a team meeting. After some unexplained delays, the meeting began at approximately 9 p.m. Central time at the Siegel Center. He did not comment to any of the Richmond-based reporters as Smart went inside the building.
That meeting lasted about 20 minutes, and VCU players were escorted out of the arena by team personnel. Soon afternoon, tweets emerged that VCU players came out of the locker room visibly distraught. Then, Richmond-based reporters began tweeting that Smart is leaving VCU for Texas.
During the day, VCU fans held a rally hoping to keep Smart. A Richmond-based barbecue restaurant offered to give Smart free food. Unbelievably, a local strip club promised Smart and his assistants “unlimited free lapdances” if they stayed.
This season, Smart had a package worth approximately $1.8 million, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. His contract included a $500,000 buyout clause. Smart’s new employer also is obligated to play VCU in a home-and-home series, although Texas could buy its way out of that for $250,000.
Smart has a 163-56 record in six seasons at VCU. The Commodores have never won a regular-season conference title under Smart’s watch. But that didn’t stop VCU from breaking onto the national stage in 2011 and reach the Final Four.
Last March at the NCAA Tournament, Smart was asked why he continues to stay at VCU when multiple suitors — including Marquette and UCLA — made a serious push.
“I get that question a lot. I enjoy it at VCU,” Smart said. “It’s a school where basketball matters quite a bit. We enjoy the opportunity to coach our guys every day, be around them, help them get better on and off the court.
“Obviously most of the attention is paid to winning or losing. I understand that’s how it works. But I enjoy all around everything about the opportunity at VCU. Also the support that we have there is very, very good.
Smart replaces longtime Texas coach Rick Barnes, who was the winningest men’s coach in school history. Barnes was 402-180 in 17 seasons and made 16 trips to the NCAA Tournament, getting to the Final Four in 2003.