Shaka Smart has been one of the most sought-after young college basketball coaches over the past few years and when any job opens up, his name is always among the first mentioned as a potential replacement. This year has been no exception, but we can now confirm that Smart will be staying at Virginia Commonwealth for the foreseeable future.
Despite overtures from both Minnesota and UCLA, Smart has decided to turn aside all inquiries and remain at VCU for now. On top of rebuffing UCLA and Minnesota, Smart will also sign a contract extension with VCU through 2023. Last year, Smart also turned down the job at Illinois.
From what we’ve been told, Smart was the top choice for both the Bruins and Golden Gophers, and both schools went after him hard through back channels. Smart was hired at VCU by Norwood Teague, who is now the athletic director at Minnesota, but that relationship wasn’t enough to draw the 35-year-old coach away from Richmond.
Meanwhile, our sources claim that Smart just wasn’t ready to leave the friendly confines of VCU, where he has a low-pressure, high-paying job. UCLA is obviously the best job the young coach has been connected to, but there is a huge difference between Richmond and Los Angeles, and Smart just wasn’t ready to be thrown into the media fire that would awaited him out west.
In addition to that, we’re hearing that UCLA has told people behind the scenes that whoever the new coach is, his salary will max out at around $2.5 million per season. Smart’s new extension will increase his salary to $1.5 million per season at VCU, so it’s not like the money from UCLA would have overwhelmed him.
Our sources close to the UCLA program claim the Bruins have reached out to at least a dozen candidates through back-channels, casting a wide net. The reason? The school wants a new coach in place very soon, and won’t wait around to lick its wounds after being turned down by Smart.
The coaches we can confirm that have been approached are former Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike Brown, Villanova head coach Jay Wright, Purdue’s Matt Painter, Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall and N.C. State’s Mark Gottfried. UCLA has also attempted to connect with Florida head coach Billy Donovan and Butler’s Brad Stevens, but neither coach appears willing to listen.
Stevens has told people close to him that there are only two jobs he would leave Butler for (which I won’t list here, but those who know Stevens know what they are and it’s not much of a mystery), and UCLA is not on that list. Like Smart, Stevens is making nearly $1.5 million per year, so the money UCLA is offering won’t overwhelm him either.
UCLA’s job is obviously one of the biggest in all of college basketball, but that wasn’t enough to lure Shaka Smart from his comfortable gig at VCU and isn’t likely to dislodge Stevens either.
If I had to guess, I’d say Gottfried is the current leader. He has UCLA ties from his time as an assistant in Westwood under former coach Jim Harrick in 1995 when the Bruins won their last national championship.
We’ll keep you updated with what we’re hearing.