In addition to former Tulsan and master of ceremonies, Bob Stevens, we’re also welcoming back another gentleman to Tulsa tonight – our keynote speaker and former University of Tulsa head basketball coach – Tubby Smith. In eleven years as a head coach, he’s charted a 256-105 (70.9%) record, coaching teams to the last nine NCAA Tournaments, including seven Sweet Sixteen appearances.
In case you missed all the local sports news from 1991-1995, Smith compiled a 79-43 record at TU. In both 1994 and 1995, the Golden Hurricane won Missouri Valley Conference regular-season titles, advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, and Smith was named MVC Coach of the Year . . . both times. His final year at TU, Smith led the Golden Hurricane to a 24-8 record, the school’s third highest total, and a No. 15 ranking in the final CNN/USA Today poll.
Smith was born in 1951, the sixth of 17 children raised on a rural farm in southern Maryland. At Great Mills High School in Maryland, Smith was a two-sport letterman (basketball and track), captain of his basketball team, and won numerous awards and honors, one being an All-State performer.
At High Point College, Smith earned a Bachelor of Science degree in health and physical education. He was basketball team co-captain as a junior, and as a senior was captain and was an All-Carolina Conference selection.
Smith began his coaching career by returning to his Great Mills High School as head coach for four years (46-36) before moving on as head coach for the next four years at Hoke County High School in Raeford, North Carolina (28-18).
Smith then served as assistant coach at Virginia Commonwealth for seven years, including six seasons under J.D. Barnett. VCU’s record during that time was 144-64. They won three Sun Belt Conference Championships and made five NCAA Tournament appearances. From there, he moved on to be assistant coach for George Felton (now Smith’s assistant at UK) at South Carolina for three years, where the Gamecock’s notched a 53-35 three-year record.
Soon, the Kentucky Wildcat head coach Rick Pitino wooed Smith away from his assistant coach position at South Carolina. Pitino’s staff included a few more names you might recognize: Ralph Willard of Holy Cross, North Carolina State’s Herb Sendek, Florida’s Billy Donovan, and Bernadette Mattox, coach of the UK women’s team. In the hands of these future head coaches, the Wildcats racked up two championships in three seasons.
After serving as assistant under Pitino, Smith went on to TU and then to Georgia, where he spent two seasons coaching the Bulldogs to a 45-19 record and the school’s first back-to-back season of 20 or more wins. In fact, the 1996-97 Georgia season was one of his most impressive coaching efforts. After losing eight seniors and all five starters from the year before, Smith led the youthful Dawgs to a 24-9 record. Georgia finished 1997 ranked 17th in the final AP poll and earned a No. 3 seed in the Southeast Regional.
Today, Smith is back at the University of Kentucky and in his sixth year as head coach. Year one saw him become the first coach since Cincinnati’s Ed Zuckerin 1961 to win the national title in his first year at a school. Basketball Weekly tabbed Smith its National Coach of the Year while The Associated Press named him the Co-SEC Coach of the Year. After that first season, the New York Athletic Club presented Smith with the prestigious Winged Foot Award. He was named Parent of the Year by Parent Magazine, received the Victor Award by the Black Coaches Association . . . and was voted the “Sexiest Male Public Figure” in a reader’s vote in a local magazine. Rounding out the year, he was named the Kentucky Sportsman of the Year for 1998, edging out the highly popular Kentucky football team coach, Tim Couch.
Perhaps his greatest honor was representing the U.S. as an assistant coach for the men’s 2000 Olympic basketball team, alongside Rudy Tomjanivoch, Larry Brown, and Gene Keady. This honor came after a 1999 summer honor assisting the U.S. Senior National Team to the gold medal in the Tournament of the Americas in Puerto Rico.
Smith and his wife Donna have three sons: Orlando (G.G.), Saul, and Brian. Not surprisingly, G.G. was a four-year letterman at Georgia and Saul is a point guard at Kentucky.
Shortly after accepting Kentucky’s head coach position, Smith started the Tubby Smith Foundation to assist underprivileged children. He has since conducted annual auctions, golf tournaments and other events while also accepting donations from Bluegrass companies and corporations. Now in its fourth year, the foundation has raised over $1.5 million.
We would have been hard pressed to find anyone any more appropriate for a night of honoring the memory of revered basketball coach, Henry P. Iba. It’s nice to see you in Tulsa again, Tubby.