One year ago, Shaka Smart had a choice. He could either stay at VCU, where he had coached for six years and gone to a Final Four, or he could take the opening at Texas.
He chose Texas.
“You can’t be in two places at one time,” Smart said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “If you want to take on a new challenge and have an unbelievable opportunity for growth, then that means you’ve got to leave that comfortable familiar place where you are. And my type as a person, I don’t really like change. I’m pretty good with what’s familiar to me. That was a step outside of my comfort zone. I also knew that at a place like Texas, we could try to expand on some of the things that we did at VCU and maybe have an opportunity to attract and recruit certain guys that maybe we weren’t able to reach before.”
Smart exceeded expectations in his first year at Texas, leading the Longhorns to 20 wins an NCAA Tournament appearance. Still, in many ways, it would have been easier, or safer, for Smart to stay at VCU – just as it would have been safer for Charlie Strong to stay at Louisville.
Neither coach, however, is afraid to fail.
“I think if you are afraid to fail, then it doesn’t matter if you stay in the comfort zone or you go after something bigger – it’s probably not going to go your way,” Smart said. “Charlie has actually been a really good resource for me because he’s a year ahead. He’s going into his third year. I’m going into my second.”
Brandon Tierney sincerely hopes that this isn’t Strong’s last year at Texas. After all, Strong went 6-7 in his first year and 5-7 in his second. That’s a combined record of 11-14, including 9-9 in the Big 12. Needless to say, a lot of people in Austin aren’t happy.
Nevertheless, Smart believes that Strong will turn things around.
“There’s going to be a lot of people that eat their words,” Smart said. “They won’t, but they will owe him an apology because he’s a phenomenal coach. He’s doing a great job with that program. It takes time to build your culture. No matter who you follow or what the situation is, it takes time to instill what you want to do.”