MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Tubby Smith has been asked about getting a contract extension at Minnesota for well over a year now, and that doesn’t figure to change anytime soon.
Smith said Thursday that he expected a deal to get done to keep him at the helm of the Golden Gophers men’s basketball team, but didn’t think it would be completed until a new athletic director is hired. Smith said he recently had a conversation with new school President Eric Kaler, who said he wanted the new athletic director to have some input.
“I’m comfortable here and he’s comfortable with me being here. … I don’t have a problem with that and that’s what I said from the beginning,” Smith said.
Smith’s name has come up in rumors for other jobs for each of the last three summers, this time surfacing in connection with South Carolina and Tulsa, a program he guided from 1991-95. But there is no indication that Smith, who will turn 61 in June, is considering leaving Minnesota now.
“I’m confident we’ll get it done,” he said.
When Joel Maturi announced his retirement as athletic director earlier this year, Kaler said he wanted to have a new person in place before making any decisions on coaches’ contracts.
Smith’s current deal runs through the 2013-14 season, and the Gophers are coming off of a second straight disappointing season. They finished 23-15 on the season, but just 6-12 in the Big Ten before making a run to the NIT title game.
With Smith not going anywhere, it’s expected to be a big summer for the program. He will be entering his sixth season at Minnesota, and some fans and supporters of the university are starting to get impatient. The Gophers haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2010 and have not won an NCAA tourney game under Smith.
They’re expected to have nearly everyone back from last year’s team, including star forward Trevor Mbakwe, who missed most of the season with a torn ACL in his right knee.
Smith said Thursday that Mbakwe wants to come back for a sixth season, which was granted by the NCAA. The Gophers have petitioned the NCAA for a waiver because they don’t have enough scholarships to go around if Mbakwe were to return, but that problem could be solved another way as well.
The Gophers have seen several players transfer out of the program under Smith’s watch, including Devoe Joseph, Justin Cobbs, Paul Carter and Colton Iverson. That’s a way of life in college basketball, Smith says, with some players expecting more playing time and becoming disgruntled when they don’t get it.
Smith said he has yet to meet with players for their season-ending sit-downs, and won’t know what to expect in terms of retention until having those conversations.
Two candidates who could be looking to make a move would be sophomores Maverick Ahanmisi and Chip Armelin. Both saw their playing time dwindle as the season wore on and other younger players took their minutes.
“Always this time of year … a player or players are concerned about their playing time or how they fit in with the program,” Smith said, later adding “that’s always something that’s in the air. I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t have someone (who wants to leave).”
Junior forward Rodney Williams, who played very well in the NIT and has considered entering the draft before, also could test the NBA waters. But Smith seemed to think that Williams was set on returning for his senior season.
“From what I’m hearing from Rodney, this is the first year he’s come out and said, ‘I need to be back here. I like the way I played last year. I like the team,'” Smith said. “He thinks we can have a very good season and I think he wants to be a part of it.”
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