On Thursday night, Marquette finally got its answer from Shaka Smart, and it wasn’t the one the school was hoping for. Smart called Marquette Thursday to officially turn down the school’s head basketball coaching job and he will return to Virginia Commonwealth next season.
Former Marquette coach Buzz Williams bolted for Virginia Tech last week and the Golden Eagles quickly identified Smart, a Wisconsin native, as his possible successor. The 36-year-old coach was reportedly offered a very lucrative deal but ultimately opted to remain at VCU.
Smart has been the head coach at VCU for the past five seasons and has racked up an outstanding record of 137-46 (.749 winning percentage) in that time. He has taken the Rams to the NCAA tournament in each of the past four seasons, including a Final Four berth in 2011.
Earlier in the week some overzealous reporters began claiming that Smart had accepted the job and was even on his way to Milwaukee for an introductory press conference. Those reports turned out to be laughably false.
We can report that sources have told us Smart and Marquette did have discussions and that he was initially intrigued by the position. Marquette has a huge basketball budget and was offering what we have been told was a “substantial” raise over his current salary of $1.5 million per year. But Smart’s family is comfortable in Richmond and after his initial burst of interest he really didn’t see himself taking the job. He probably took a few days to think about it just to make sure, but obviously it wasn’t meant to be.
Smart’s current deal with VCU runs through 2023. In the past he has rebuffed interest from UCLA, Illinois and N.C. State among others.
Marquette will now turn its attention elsewhere. The current list of candidates includes former UCLA head coach Ben Howland, Wisconsin-Green Bay’s Brian Wardle (who played and was an assistant at Marquette) and Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins.