Virginia Commonwealth University

From left to right: David Cason, Mike Morrell, and Darrin Horn, Shaka Smart's new assistant coaches.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Kevin Kilhoffer (left), VCU Athletics and Kentucky Sports Radio

Less than a week after being hired as Texas’ new men’s basketball coach, Shaka Smart has finalized the rest of his coaching staff.

Two of Smart’s assistants at Virginia Commonwealth University, Mike Morrell and David Cason, will come with him to Texas. Former South Carolina head coach Darrin Horn will join the Longhorns as well.

Horn joins Smart’s staff with nine seasons of head coaching experience with South Carolina and Western Kentucky. He guided the latter to the Sweet 16 in 2008. Three years ago, Horn left his coaching career with a 171–11 record to take a job as a college basketball analyst with ESPN and the SEC Network.

Beyond his experience, Horn’s game plans also share many similarities with Smart’s. As a coach, Horn was known for his up-tempo offense, pressure defense and intense conditioning.

“He has extensive experience as a head coach,” Smart said. “I’ve always been impressed by Darrin’s intensity as a coach and teacher of the game.”

One of the assistants Smart is bringing with him, the 32-year-old Morrell, has worked with Smart for the last four seasons and spent two of those seasons in the assistant role. 

The other VCU transfer, Cason, has over 20 years of coaching experience, including his past season at VCU. Before joining Smart’s staff, Cason was an assistant with Vanderbilt, Tulsa, TCU and Eastern Illinois, as well as the director of basketball operations at North Carolina and Notre Dame.

“David did a terrific job for us this past year at VCU,” Smart said. “He’s been a part of some very successful coaching staffs and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to our program.”

In addition to his assistants, Smart is bringing along his VCU strength and conditioning coach, Daniel Roose, and keeping former Longhorns guard and special assistant Jai Lucas in Austin. Lucas, the lone holdover from this season’s staff, will serve in a newly-created role as director of basketball operations.

“I’ve been incredibly impressed with him in the short time since I arrived here,” Smart said. “Everyone I have talked to, including our players, has spoken glowingly about him and his impact on this program. Jai played here and is from the state of Texas, and he has terrific relationships around Texas. Most importantly, he has phenomenal potential in this profession.”

Filling in the final spot as the special assistant to the head coach is Denny Kuiper, who spent the last 14 years as a sports communication consultant, working with both VCU’s Final Four team in 2011 and Marquette’s Final Four team in 2003.

Men’s basketball head coach Shaka Smart talks at the podium during his introductory press conference in April.

Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

Less than a week after Rick Barnes left the head coaching job, Texas found its program’s 24th basketball coach. Shaka Smart, who spent the last six seasons coaching at Virginia Commonwealth University, finally left the Rams after essentially rewriting the program’s history book.

Smart guided the Rams to the NCAA Tournament in each of their last five seasons, the longest streak in school history, including a trip to the 2011 Final Four — the first time the program ever advanced past the Tournament’s second weekend.

In Smart’s six seasons at the helm, the Rams won 163 games, which tied Smart with Jamie Dixon for the second-most wins of all time by a coach in their first six seasons in Division I basketball.

Smart won at least 26 games in each of his seasons at Virginia, an accomplishment that had been achieved only twice in the program’s first 37 seasons of D-I competition. And in each of those seasons, the Rams won at least 70 percent of their regular season games, despite making the leap from the Colonial Athletic Association to the Atlantic-10 Conference in the fourth year of Smart’s tenure.

Over the same six-year stretch in time, Texas won 26 or more games just once. Further, the team hasn’t hit that 70-percent win mark in the last four seasons. Over the past three seasons, VCU has also averaged a 14.75 on the Simple Rating System — which uses strength of schedules and point differential to give each team a rating of how many points above or below average they are — nearly three points higher than Texas’ 11.9.

When he transitions from coaching at a mid-major school to Texas, Smart will likely be able to achieve success — primarily by making drastic changes to Texas’ style of play.

At VCU, Smart ran his signature ‘havoc,’ full-court press defense, ranking the Rams among the top five in the nation in both steals and turnovers forced the last four seasons. In contrast, the Longhorns didn’t rank higher than 108th in steals or 150th in turnovers forced.

This past season, the VCU’s typical lineup featured no starters taller than 6-foot-6-inch, primarily playing four-guard lineups. Meanwhile, the Longhorns often started three players 6-foot-7-inch or taller. With Texas’ frontcourt depth taking a hit with senior Jonathan Holmes graduating and freshman Myles Turner declaring for the NBA draft, Texas will likely start at least three guards for the majority of the 2015–2016 season.

With a likely shift in focus to a press-based defense as well as Smart’s emphasis on the backcourt, the Longhorns will probably soon look like a totally different team than the team who played under Rick Barnes this season.

While next year’s squad may struggle a bit in adapting to the system at first, come March, the Longhorns should return to the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend for the first time since 2008.

Shaka Smart was introduced as the head men’s basketball coach at a Friday press conference. Smart joins Texas after six seasons at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

When men’s athletic director Steve Patterson was looking for a new head basketball coach, he said he felt Shaka Smart was the only man for the job.

“We said: ‘Who do we really want?’” Patterson said. “Somebody who’s a great, dedicated coach; somebody who plays an exciting style of basketball and is really interested in developing the entire group of student-athletes both on the court and off the court; somebody who is consistent in operating in an ethical fashion; somebody that we really wanted to bring to the University of Texas. We thought of Shaka Smart.”

On Thursday, Smart, the only candidate interviewed for the job, agreed to join Texas’ basketball program. He replaces former head coach Rick Barnes, who was asked to leave UT earlier after a 17-year tenure last week.

Patterson said Smart received a seven-year contract, with the first six years fully guaranteed, with an average annual compensation of about $3 million. As part of the buy-out with Virginia Commonwealth University, Texas will pay the Rams $500,000 and either play them in a home-and-home series or pay another $250,000.

Smart quickly became one of the hottest coaching commodities in the country when he led the 11th-seeded Rams from the play-in game to the Final Four in 2011. His teams were consistently good over his six years as a head coach. He won at least 26 games in every season and made the NCAA Tournament in each of his final five years in Virginia.

Many schools had tried to pry Smart away from VCU, but all were unsuccessful.

“To be honest, I didn’t know if I would ever leave VCU because of the relationships that I had there with the players and the coaching staff,” Smart said. “It really took a world-class institution, a world-class athletics program and a phenomenal place to convince my daughter, my wife and myself to make this move.”

But Texas was a “no-brainer,” Smart said.

“When the opportunity was presented to me to be the head coach here at Texas, I quickly realized this was something different,” Smart said. “This athletics department is all about championships, and I knew I was going to have the opportunity to work with a great group of young men.”

Smart is the first African-American head basketball coach at Texas. Texas will now be the third Division I school with African-American head coaches in both basketball and football, joining Stanford and Georgia State.

Smart said he feels the weight of his position as a “first.”

“I take that very seriously,” Smart said. “I grew up and was able to learn from and benefit from some terrific role models [and] some great mentors. … I hope that in this role as the men’s basketball coach at the University of Texas, I can play this role for someone else in this terrific state.”

Smart said he is going to bring his style of “havoc” basketball with him from Richmond, Virginia, which means a lot of pressing, fast breaks and overall aggressiveness.

“I can tell you right now, when you come to the Erwin Center to see us play, you’re going to see an exciting style of basketball,” Smart said.

However, Smart knows  he will have to adjust that style a bit with his new roster — one that has a plethora of skilled big men.

“That means maybe you adjust what you do to fit those guys’ strengths,” Smart said. “But at the same time, we’re not going to get away from what I believe in. We’re always going to be aggressive. We’re always going to be highly competitive.”

After the deal was announced, players said they agreed Smart’s confidence and style of play will have exciting implications for the program.

“My immediate reaction to hearing about Coach Smart was excitement,” junior forward Connor Lammert said. “We are turning a new page in the book and are real excited about it.”