- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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Tubby Smith said Saturday on ESPN Radio's GameDay that he had no knowledge that his agent, Ricky Lefft, and Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi were discussing the possibility of Smith leaving Kentucky for Minnesota the past six weeks.
Maturi told ESPN.com on Thursday night that he approached Lefft six weeks ago when he got word through a search firm that Smith might have interest.
"I was shocked when Ricky brought that to me, to be honest with you, I was like everybody else. I think he felt looking at me from the outside. He said, 'Tubby this is the best thing for you; you don't seem to be as happy.' Those are the areas that he came to me with," Smith said.
Smith said he was at Clemson University watching his son Brian, who plays for Ole Miss, in an NIT game Monday night. He said he drove back to Lexington on Tuesday. And it was Wednesday, he said, that he met with Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart and said he was "concentrating on my job and that's the honest truth."
Smith said he didn't even consider the Minnesota job until Wednesday, and he wanted to delay going to Minnesota but couldn't.
"I wanted to delay it to the next day, but I assumed that they felt like this is what we need to do, because it would be out there as quickly as it could be," Smith said. "After showing up there, I was like, 'This is all right, they really have everything in place, they are excited about it, let's do it,' and that's how it happened."
Smith said he saw former Minnesota coach Clem Haskins at the Kentucky high school tournament Wednesday at Rupp Arena by chance and told him he was "serious about Minnesota."
"All of a sudden we're talking, and I said, 'Can I talk to you, Clem?' And all he could do was rave nothing but great things about the program," Smith said. "It happened so quickly, to be honest with you, and sometimes you get swept off your feet. But again, you are going through a decompression time because you just lost a game [to Kansas last Sunday], and that's tough because you think your team is pretty good and won 22 games, and you feel like you had a successful season and you're hoping that people have confidence in you to get things going.
"We've had some things happen to us in the last couple of seasons that probably put us in a position that we did not win the SEC, but we've been hanging around here and we aren't a bad ball team and it will be a very good team next year. But those are the things that you look at, and sometimes you can make things in haste, but this was a good move for me and my family at this time."
Smith wouldn't bite on how much weight is off his shoulders, but ...
"Certainly, we've won our share here. We won five SEC championships outright, tied for the East Division [title] ... we've either won a regular season title, tied for regular season, won a tournament eight out of 10 years I've been here, so to be honest with you, I never really felt there was pressure," Smith said. "This job is a job that's 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year -- it really is!
"It can wear on you. It can wear you out, to be honest with you, so you have to be real careful. But I don't think that's pressure, I just think that you work as hard as you can work. My wife and I, we don't go on vacations -- we just don't. If I'm not coaching, I'm with the NABC board, USA Basketball Committee, or if I'm not doing something with Tubby's Clubhouses or if I'm not, [I'm] doing something to promote the basketball program here at Kentucky. It's a hard job that you have to work extremely hard at, and every job is that way."
But how much did it wear on his wife, Donna?
"Well, I think Donna's a trooper. We've moved a lot places; we've been around," Smith said. "To be honest with you, we love this place. We'll probably come back here to stay. She loves the horses. She loves the racing commission. She's very involved with everything in the committee. I don't know how it affected her, but it would probably have more effect on her as far as the negative than it would on me."
How appreciated was he at Kentucky?
"There's a certain element in every program that you're going to have to face," Smith said. "There's a certain group of people who wanted this coach, a certain group wanted that coach, and your critics are always going to be there. You have to concentrate on what you do best and who you are, and if you're secure in who you are then you can last a long time. In this day and time, there's not many coaches that are going to make like Jim Boeheim or even Dean Smith [and stay in one place for two decades or more]. I'm just looking around the country now and guys that have been in places for years, there's not many. I don't know any that have been in a place more than 10 to 12 years now."
So, what would Smith's advice be for the next Kentucky coach?
"Well, I'd just tell him that you've got the greatest fans in the world, you really do," Smith said. "You are going to be supported, there will be people willing to do things for you, they're rabid. There's an element that's gotta be, you know, whatever the score is, they are worried about the score, not necessarily wins and losses. That's something you have to overcome; it's a challenge on a regular basis.
"We just built a $35 million practice facility; it's unbelievable. Rupp Arena is sold out and you don't have to sell tickets to games -- they've been sold out for 20 to 30 years, maybe longer than that. Financially, you're going to be set for life. The SEC is the toughest conference, you're going to be on TV. There's no real drawbacks, except you're on the stage all the time."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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