Vince Dooley figured Kentucky would eventually hire away his basketball coach. He just didn't expect it to happen so soon.
Tubby Smith, who led the Bulldogs to consecutive 20-win seasons, has been offered the chance to become Rick Pitino's successor at Kentucky. Smith was pondering the offer today, but there seemed little doubt he will be coaching the Wildcats next season.Meanwhile, Kentucky today announced a special meeting of UK Athletic Association board of directors for Monday. The agenda included the appointment of a head basketball coach.
Smith showed up for an early-morning conditioning session with some of his players today, but left the campus without telling Dooley, the Georgia athletic director, if he had reached a decision, said sports information director Claude Felton.
Smith's players were resigned to losing their popular coach, while Dooley already was pondering a list of possible replacements.
"I do know that they would like to have him in Kentucky," Dooley said Thursday. "It's his job to either take or turn down. More than likely, knowing the situation, he would probably take the job."
Smith flew to Lexington, Ky., on Wednesday night to meet with Wildcats athletic director C.M. Newton, a close friend of Dooley who asked for permission to talk with Smith shortly after Pitino resigned to coach the Boston Celtics.
"I knew perhaps at one time this might happen," Dooley said. "I didn't know it would happen quite so soon and I don't think coach Newton knew it would happen quite so soon."
When Smith was hired by the Bulldogs two years ago, Newton and Dooley discussed the possibility that Smith might end up at Kentucky some day. Smith was an assistant under Pitino at Kentucky from 1989-91, serving as associate head coach the second season.
"I felt from the very beginning when he came to Georgia that there was no other job he would leave here for except Kentucky," Dooley said. "That was the only one I was ever concerned about."
Smith was meeting with his family and friends before deciding whether to accept the Kentucky offer. Dooley, who was awaiting a call from Smith, said a decision could be made today.
"I see no reason to drag it out any length of time," Dooley said. "I think it will happen rather quickly."
Smith could not be reached for comment today. He was not at his office at mid-morning, and his wife, Donna, said he was not at home. She declined further comment.
One of Smith's sons, G.G., is a point guard at Georgia and another son, Saul, recently committed to play for the Bulldogs next season. Both could transfer to Kentucky, though G.G. would have to sit out next season.
Georgia forward Jon Nordin, who rooms with G.G. Smith, said he doesn't know if the point guard would follow his father to Kentucky.
"I think it's tough for him to say right now," Nordin said. "It's been like a whirlwind these last two days. I think he has to sort out some of those things for himself right now. It could go either way."
Pitino was at Kentucky for eight seasons, leading the Wildcats to the 1996 national championship and a runner-up finish this past season, before he resigned to take a reported 10-year, $70 million contract with the Celtics.
"It's one of the truly great coaching jobs," Dooley said of Kentucky. "We have to be hopeful on one hand, but realistic on the other."
Lexington stations WKYT-TV and WLAP-AM said Thursday that Smith reached an agreement with Kentucky during his meeting with Newton, who refused to confirm the reports.
"We're not issuing any comment until we have a coach in place," Newton said.
An offer from Kentucky would be for five years and probably would exceed $1 million a year. Pitino had a contract with Kentucky reportedly worth $2 million annually.
Smith recently agreed to a contract extension at Georgia that would have been worth $605,000 annually in salary and benefits over the next six years. The school also agreed to begin funding an annuity that would have paid Smith $500,000 for staying for the length of his contract.
The new contract was offered to Smith after he was pursued by Ohio State a couple of months ago. The coach has not yet signed the new deal and there is no buyout clause, which leaves him free to leave Georgia without worrying about the financial ramifications.
Smith, 45, employs an aggressive, up-tempo style that is similar to Pitino's. He compiled a 79-43 record during four seasons at Tulsa, guiding the Golden Hurricanes to two NCAA tournament appearances, and had been at Georgia for two seasons with a 45-19 record and two NCAA trips.
Smith, who is black, would be joining a school that under coaching great Adolph Rupp was long resistant to recruiting black players. University president Charles Wethington Jr. downplayed the significance of hiring a black coach.
"We're absolutely going to look for the very best coach we can find at this point," he said. "I can tell you without any question that it won't make any difference whether this person is an African-American or not when it gets to me."
The Georgia players are already preparing for life after Smith.
"The opinion among the guys is that's the kind of job you don't turn down," Nordin said. "He's done some great things at Georgia, but that's a pretty tempting offer."