It’s that time of year again when top basketball programs try and hire young coaches from one of the best coaching factories in America. Jeff Capel and Anthony Grant had bigger programs on their minds, but Shaka Smart might have different plans.
After leading VCU to the 2011 Final Four and taking the 9th youngest team in Division I basketball to the 3rd round of the NCAA tournament; 34 year-old Shaka Smart is one of the hottest basketball coaches in the nation. Virginia Commonwealth University and the city of Richmond can now breathe a whole lot easier because, for the second year in a row, Smart turned down a lucrative coaching position in a major conference.
Wednesday the VCU athletics department announced, “Virginia Commonwealth University officials confirmed today that head men’s basketball coach Shaka Smart will remain at VCU.” The press release continued with a statement from Smart: “I am very grateful for the support and belief in the coaching staff and basketball program that comes from the very top of our university’s leadership — President Rao, Athletic Director Norwood Teague and the VCU Board of Visitors – as well as our phenomenal fans.”
- Coach Smart has 84 wins in his first three seasons, the second most of any coach in three seasons in NCAA history.
- Coach Smart has coached six seniors at VCU. All six have graduated.
- Coach Smart has led VCU to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 1985.
- Coach Smart and the Rams have attracted 18 straight sellouts at the Siegel Center, the longest streak in CAA history and fifth longest active streak in the country.
- Coach Smart and the Rams have seen 57 of their games televised over the past two seasons.
The announcement comes at a critical time for basketball in Richmond as VCU tries to take its program to the next level. The announcement will undoubtedly help VCU expand upon its regular and post-season success by maintaining recruiting, continuing the 5th longest active sell-out streak in college basketball, and, most importantly, by keeping a young charismatic coach that has helped transform a university both on and off the court.
For VCU, March has become a time of great success, but it has also become a time of great uneasiness as major programs try to hire coaches from what has become a factory of young coaching talent. VCU’s athletic department has a strong tradition of hiring assistant coaches and helping them find success in their first head coaching roles.
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Jeff Capel III (2002-2006)
After years of success in the early 80s, VCU struggled for almost two decades before Capel came to town. Promoted to assistant coach at 27-years old, he set the stage for what is happening today. In 2004 Capel led VCU to the NCAA tournament where they lost 79-78 to a Chris Paul-led Wake Forest (in typical dramatic VCU fashion). Capel recruited at a high level (Eric Maynor, B.A. Walker, Nick George) and took VCU places it hadn’t seen since 1985.
- VCU salary: ???
- Oklahoma salary: $1.7 million
In 2006 Indiana hired Kelvin Sampson and Jeff Capel left VCU to take Kelvin’s spot at Oklahoma. Capel inherited a program burdened with restrictions left in the wake of Sampson who subsequently drove Indiana’s storied program into the ground. At first Capel found great success which led to a huge contract extension after he led the Sooners to the NCAA tournament twice,including an Elite Eight performance, on the back of current NBA star Blake Griffin. When Griffin left after his second season, Capel struggled to win games despite having three McDonald’s All-Americans on his roster. In 2011 Oklahoma fired Capel and for the 2011-2012 season he served as an assistant coach at Duke.
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Anthony Grant (2006-2009)
Fans might have worried when Capel left, but in 2007 VCU finished 28-7 with a win over Duke, and people went Grant crazy. Grant made the full court press cool and his court-side demeanor struck fear in the hearts of fully grown men. After leading VCU to the NCAA tournament in 2009, Alabama and its near endless athletic department budget more than quadrupled Grant’s salary.
- VCU salary: $400,000
- Alabama salary: $1.83 million
Anthony Grant led VCU to two NCAA tournament appearances in three seasons, including a win over Duke in 2007, before taking the head coaching job at Alabama. Grant is enjoying success with a 63-39 record, an NIT runner-up, and one NCAA tournament appearance. Grant is recruiting at a high level, and his teams will likely spend more time in the Top-25 than not.
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Shaka Smart (2009-?)
VCU bought into giving young assistant coaches opportunities and it has paid off. In his 3rd game as VCU head coach, Smart caught headlines for upsetting the then top-25 Oklahoma. Behind the leadership of Larry Sanders, Smart’s first squad won 27 games and a CBI title. While Sanders bolted a year early for the NBA Draft, Smart led the 2010-2011 Rams on the journey of a lifetime that ended in Houston.
- VCU salary: $325,000 » $1.2 million » contract being negotiated.
- NC State offer: around $2 million
- Illinois offer: a salary comparable to top Big Ten coaches. (Tom Izzo makes $3+million annually)
In the span of roughly three weeks, Smart took VCU to the Final Four, and in the course of about a month he nearly quadrupled his salary. The 2011-2012 season helped confirm that it wasn’t a fluke and that Smart is a talented coach, motivator, and recruiter. Entering the 2012-2013 season, Smart will finally have an experienced team comprised entirely of players that he recruited. Only time will tell how long Smart stays and what kind of success he finds but for another year VCU fans can breathe a little easier.
Last year Smart cited “young talent” as a reason for staying with the Black&Gold, and it has to be on his mind this year as well. This season VCU was the 9th youngest team in Division I basketball and the Rams still set a school record for wins. Bradford Burgess is the only player leaving, and the Rams are adding key pieces like Jordan Burgess, Bradford’s younger brother and an ESPN top 100 recruit.