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.”