Update, Monday morning: I have corrected two errors below to the NCAA tournament statistics. Thank you to the commentors. What's more, I want to be clear this is not an attack on Paul Woody–he is a good man whose body of work over the years deserves respect. I simply felt there was a great deal of information and perspective missing from his column, so I wanted to lay those facts out.
Who saw today's paper? I'm a dinosaur and picked it up from my driveway this morning, and boy, if you want to talk about blammo, check out A1 and Paul Woody's column, titled "Investment in VCUs Smart Demands More."
(I am half-joking. That baby made the rounds today.)
I don't disagree with Woody's high level assertion. For VCU to be consistently viewed as a national power in basketball, it will have to win important games in late March. There's no getting around that reality.
My issue surrounds the lack of comparative information and historical precedent needed to lend perspective to the viewpoint. What's more, it completely ignores what Smart contributes to the Richmond community and to the lives of the student-athletes in his charge. This is in addition to the curious front-page placement and timing of a piece so devoid of needed perspective.
I will begin by saying that VCU had better have doubled down on its basketball investment. I wouldn't want it any other way. Any responsible leader will invest in his greatest asset, the fulcrum that brought him that first level of success. That's expert vision from Dr. Rao and Ed McLaughlin. Drive 100 miles to the north and ask the people surrounding George Mason University about the impact of not investing in the assets that brought you a Final Four.
Where is the hand-wringing and Sunday front page positioning for Virginia Tech, a school that's on its third head coach since VCUs Final Four run and has an operating budget far superior to that of VCU? Virginia Tech has been to one NCAA tournament in 18 years and has one fewer NCAA tournament victory in its basketball-playing history (six) than Smart has at VCU in the past four years (seven). Let's calculate that ROI.
How about conference-mate Richmond? The Spiders have played in two NCAA tournaments in five years, and just spent $17 million upgrading the Robins Center.
I don't write that out of spite to the other schools–they too are trying for the same things as the VCU program and I wish them success. I just wonder how they were omitted from this column. After all, winning in the NCAA tournament and being nationally-recognized is not solely a VCU goal. Those schools have made investments, too, including the giant contract just given to Buzz Williams.
Just as the Richmond improvements, which are outstanding, should be judged over the long term, so should VCU success. You cannot call into question VCUs investment just as you cannot peel one orange and call into question the entire grove.
A USAToday report last year had Smart as the 27th highest paid college basketball coach. I counted 12 coaches who make more money than Smart but have seen less success than VCU. How do you think Oklahoma State feels about the $2.275 million it's paying Travis Ford? NC State and the $1.95 million it's paying Mark Gottfried?
My point here is not to quibble with numbers; rather, these are things that should've been in the column for perspective. As for deadlines, it took me five seconds to Google "ncaa basketball coaches salaries." It was the first link to click.
Similarly, Smart should absolutely be rewarded for what he has accomplished to date. In that same report, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski makes more than $7 million per year. Is that for what he's accomplished, or what they are going to accomplish? Again, I don't want to parse salary, but it's worth noting that VCU has won a game in two of the past three NCAA tournaments. Duke has not.
Let's also take into account outliers and second-level impact.
The $25 million practice facility mentioned by Woody does not occur without Smart's success on the court, and ability to create positivity off the court. People can see and feel the impact he is making and they want to be a part of that.
Smart is mentioned for nearly every head coaching vacancy for a reason–he is a good bet for an institution. Others see value in his transformative drive and passion. And that is on every level and in the community, not just basketball. There is value in that.
That brings me to loyalty.
Loyalty matters, and it should be rewarded.
Shaka Smart turned down the likes of Maryland, NC State, UCLA, and Illinois. He remains at VCU to further his vision and see it come to fruition. Loyalty and consistency is important in a leader, and that's what VCU has. Think of it this way: What did Anthony Grant do right after he was given a big raise? He left town.
Every senior–every single one–has graduated under Smart. The two student-athletes deemed partial-qualifiers by the NCAA were honor roll students their freshman year. People don't realize that the VCU players spent time during the NCAA tournament in study hall.
And while everyone sees his work with the Boys & Girls Club or Friends Association, Smart frequently speaks at elementary schools without prodding nor cameras and for no other reason than it fits into his schedule. He contributed $1,000 out of his own pocket to help send the VCU band to Brooklyn, and when Troy Daniels needed advice on what to do with his career, he immediately dialed up Smart. He is a unifying figure in a region that desperately needs that kind of humanity and leadership.
There is value in all of that.
And yes, VCU lost a game in the NCAA tournament it should not have lost. That doesn't change the direction of the investment. This is a world that values immediate gratification and sometimes that's not a realistic expectation. Some sucesses are built through a process that takes years to create. Of all of their columnists, I thought Woody understood this reality more than anyone.
If you look at where this basketball program was when Smart arrived, where it is today, and where it's headed, you can see the value of this investment. And to my original point, I do agree that wins deep into March will matter. The Times-Dispatch readers simply needed the perspective and data outlined above.
Considering the dreck in college sports, if you're telling me a few wins every now and then in late March is VCUs biggest problem, I'll take that. Besides, there's nothing wrong with being challenged and in many ways I like that there's an implicit challenge in Woody's column. But the way this was done, from the lack of important information right down to the positioning in the paper, I hate that.
Honestly, I think Shaka Smart is underpaid, and this column was disrespectful to a man that has accomplished more in five years than VCU–the university–could've dreamed. We're in good hands.