Every March it happens in Richmond... "Shaka-Watch," when other programs take their shots at courting Shaka Smart to be their next head coach. 2015 sees Texas as the primary suitor, and while Smart has turned down other jobs in the past, the Longhorns may have the best chance at reeling in the highly sought-after Smart. To be clear, I'm not saying Shaka will or will not leave, rather presenting why I think this is different from previous possibilities and why Smart may have a tougher time saying no to Texas (if you saw my segment on CSN, I discussed some of this). As of Monday night, there is no indication he's been offered the job, and a single national report that says the two sides have discussed the opening.
The Case for Texas: There are two main reasons that make Texas much different than the other jobs that have come Smart's way. First, that state is the home to some of the best high school basketball in the nation. It's a recruiting hotbed. Smart has the potential to go there and clean up. Players come to VCU for a variety of reasons. One big reason is to play for Shaka Smart. That would translate to the Longhorns and I think he could do very well in the Big 12.
The other big reason is UT and its athletic budget. Texas often leads the nation in athletic department revenue. Two years ago, I believe the Longhorns had an athletic budget surplus of around $18 million. Shaka Smart has proven time and time again that the increase in personal salary is not a sole reason to make a jump, but what is also evident to me is the importance of boosting the program in his eyes. Program money appears to be more important than personal money. When it came to his re-negotiations at VCU, a good portion of them were centered around how to improve the basketball program. He would have a great deal of opportunities to accelerate Texas's program, given his reputation, recruiting ability, recruiting area and a heck of a lot of money for the program. And no, the increase in annual salary probably won't hurt either (I would expect he'd make between $3-$4 million if offered).
He also is moving to a city that's somewhat similar to Richmond. Austin is very artsy, very musical and very cultured. There are no professional teams to compete with, and his team would be in the spotlight an awful lot, even though it has to share the stage with football.
Some of the other schools that have offered him in the past may have had one of these desirable traits, but Texas offers the perfect storm, if you will.
The Case for VCU: So why would Smart turn down this opportunity? For the same reasons he's turned down jobs in the past. First and foremost, he's pretty much king of Richmond. VCU basketball is the biggest show in town from November-March, thanks in large part to Smart and how he's taken the program to another level. Not only has Smart been loyal to VCU, but the school and the program have been loyal right back. I truly believe VCU has one of the best fan-bases in the nation. The Siegel Center has sold out 66 straight games and the fans live basketball (no, I'm not saying this isn't possible anywhere else. A lot of people love their school and show a great deal of passion).
You also learn through covering the team that Shaka isn't a fan of change. He likes routine and repetition from an operational standpoint. Richmond is home, and right now, that's VCU's biggest advantage. The Smarts are the most popular celebrities in town, supporting numerous charity projects and being very visible in the community. There is a bond here, one that I would imagine wouldn't be that easy to walk away from. It's clear that on and off the court, Richmond means a lot to the Smarts, and vice versa.
There are also a lot of things happening with the basketball program. That $25 million practice facility is making its way up behind the Siegel Center and Smart would welcome three talented recruits for the upcoming season, while only losing two seniors who played significant minutes, though two of the most successful players ever to wear the black and gold.
There are no surprise endings for me in this one. I realize this is the "safe" conclusion, but it's an honest one in that nothing will surprise me when it comes to Smart and Texas. Whether he stays or goes, there are strong cases for both. The factor that we can't predict, nor should we try, is which is the best fit for Smart and his family, an answer we should have in the next few days.