|Gillispie, Huggins among coaches adjusting to new teams|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 11 July 2007 08:13|
Only instead of prized recruits, Smith met with people from all over Minnesota as part of a coaches' caravan that allowed him to reach out to a depressed fan base that, much like the program he inherited, was sorely in need of revitalization.
What Smith found out was that the kind of winning percentage that caused grumbling in Kentucky earned him a welcome worthy of a returning native son from the disillusioned fans.
``There's a sense of people wanting to be excited,'' Smith said. ``I needed a new challenge and something to really get the blood going again. This is it. Minnesota's that place.''
Smith was one of more than 50 coaches to take a new job this offseason and easily the highest in profile, with a national championship at Kentucky and 14 straight 20-win seasons. All had their reasons - heading home, more money, better program - but all had one thing in common:
``It is always hard,'' said John Beilein, who left West Virginia for Michigan. ``But sometimes it's just refreshing to start anew.''
All the coaches scouting at this week's elite Reebok high school basketball camp at Philadelphia University looked straight out of a merchandise catalog with school logos and names stitched all over their polo shirts, only it seemed slightly off to see the coaches wearing them.
M program for the more prestigious Kentucky job vacated by Smith.
While the demands of appeasing an often finicky fan base, along with five double-digit loss seasons in the last eight years, started to wear on Smith, Gillispie is ready for the challenge.
M, where he just led the Aggies to the NCAA tournament's round of 16 for the first time in 27 years. The expectations are higher at Kentucky and Gillispie knows he can return the program to among the nation's elite.
He made an instant impact, quickly signing one of the final blue-chip high school prospects available. Without playing a game, Gillispie is already a winner at Kentucky only instead of topping the Top 25, he's a hit on the public opinion polls on Internet message boards and blogs.
``I like expectations, I like passion,'' Gillispie said. ``That passion has enabled them to win the most games in college basketball history and hopefully that passion is going to help us win.''
While all the coaches insisted they're recruiting from the same pool of top recruits, Gillispie likes how easier some of those stars are now looking back at him and his school.
``You might be received a little bit better when you're at the University of Kentucky because of the tradition,'' he said.
Now all Gillispie needs is one of the tour busses like Smith had in Minnesota.
``I'm looking forward to meeting every single person in Kentucky if I get a chance to,'' he said.
Well, he shouldn't expect a welcome mat in Louisville.
Beilein, who paid $1.5 million to West Virginia for taking the job at Michigan with five years remaining on his deal, said those same fans who are happy now with a fresh face and a new voice could be the same ones setting up firecoach.com Web sites when the wins don't come as quickly as they'd like.
``People who have won national championships before, I think their patience line might be different,'' he said.
Smith knows all about coaching under the weight of impatient fans. He won't get that in Minnesota where the Gophers went 9-22 last season and suffered through the academic fraud scandal under Clem Haskins and only one NCAA tournament in seven-plus seasons under Don Monson. There are no immediate Big Ten title expectations for now.
``I think they're a little more realistic than that, coming off the year we had,'' Smith said. ``They did win nine games. They have some solid kids returning.''
Huggins is enjoying a happy homecoming in his return to West Virginia. He was a former captain and two-time academic All-American during his 1975-1977 playing days, and spent the first year of his coaching career with the Mountaineers as a graduate assistant.
Huggins is finding it easy to reconnect with old friends and fans.
``I was there for five years, so you take four years on either side and it's like 13 years of people you went to school with,'' Huggins said.