Has Shaka Smart been a spectacular disappointment with the Texas Longhorns? Yes.
This is not a slight (Andy Enfield) or moderate (Tim Miles) disappointment, but a huge one.
Four seasons into his tenure in Austin, Smart hasn’t yet won an NCAA Tournament game. He hasn’t won more than 20 games in a season at Texas or lost fewer than 13. Interestingly, his best season — if measured purely by wins and losses and NCAA Tournament seeding — was his first. Smart has finished with a winning record in the Big 12 only once, also in his first season. After four years, a coach’s imprint is largely if not fully his own. Inherited recruits reside in the past. Those are Year 1 and Year 2 concerns, sometimes still a relevant component of a coach’s situation in Year 3.
After four years, the coach at a high-resource program such as Texas should have his plan in place, clearly able to replicate good results on and off the court.
Shaka Smart doesn’t appear to be especially close to that basic standard.
This is why some people think Smart should be fired.
Texas almost certainly missed the NCAAs with its 16th loss of the season on Thursday in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals against the Kansas Jayhawks. That is absolutely unacceptable for UT basketball. Smart doesn’t need anyone outside the program to remind him of that reality. He knows.
This is horrible, and it is legitimate to ask if Smart deserves another season.
Should it mean he actually ought to be fired, though?
I don’t think so… and the reason is less complicated than some might think.
If you watched the final two or three minutes of the Kansas game on Thursday, you saw what had happened to Texas for much of the season: Smart didn’t coach terribly. Players got open and had shots to make. They missed them. Texas simply couldn’t hit the ocean from the shore this season. That can’t entirely be laid at the feet of the head coach. It would have been something different altogether if the Longhorns had been sloppy or listless or confused. They weren’t. They just couldn’t hit the side of a barn.
It raises the simple point that Smart and his staff have to be better choosers of top talent.
“Find shooters!” Duh — of course Smart is aware of that pressing need.
This isn’t a problem solved by looking in 150 or 200 more places than before. It is a problem solved by evaluating talent and being able to determine what a fixable or improvable jumper looks like, and what a broken or flawed jump shot looks like. The tendencies and natural gifts of players have to be assessed in ways which give Shaka a much stronger sense that he is getting a reliable performer, especially a reliable shooter.
If this one aspect of Texas can improve next season, this tenure can be rescued.
If it can’t, this once-popular coaching prospect will be coaching at the mid-major level in the autumn of 2020, following a miserable 2019-2020 campaign in Austin.
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