No riding off into the sunset for Tubby
The official start of practice is still a couple of weeks away, but the Texas Tech basketball squad took its first step toward team bonding earlier this month when it went through a military-style training session on the school's soccer field.
The drills weren't just for players.
Coaches joined in, too.
Bear crawls under various obstacles, push-ups and sit-ups in the grass, flexing during tug-of-war. Two months removed from his 62nd birthday, Orlando "Tubby" Smith was beginning to feel like one of the guys again until he took an awkward step during a jogging drill through the woods, aggravating a bone spur in his heel.
"Still hurts," Smith told ESPN.com last week. "I'm still active, but that was a reminder that I can't do everything as well as I used to."
Smith may be a tad more limited physically than he was in his 40s and 50s. But the man with 511 wins on his résumé and an NCAA title ring on his finger swears he hasn't lost a step as a coach.
Texas Tech fans are hoping he's right.
Smith became the school's fourth coach in four years when he was hired in April to replace Chris Walker, who served as interim coach in 2012-13 following the firing of Billy Gillispie two months before the season.
Landing the man who led Kentucky to the 1998 NCAA championship brought instant credibility to Tech's program. The only concerns were whether Smith, after such a long and successful career, still had enough fire and motivation to take on the rebuilding project that awaited him in Lubbock.
"I'm not ready to stop coaching," Smith said. "I still have a lot to offer. People had concerns, and I understand that. One of the things Texas Tech kept asking me was, 'Are you comfortable? Do you still have the energy?'
"Everyone has good days and bad days. But when you love what you're doing and you have a passion for it … it' s never been work for me. As long as I can continue to keep the same energy and excitement about coaching, I'll do it."
Smith's hiring came less than a month after he was relieved of his duties at Minnesota. The Gophers won 15 of their first 16 games last season and climbed to No. 8 in the AP poll. Smith's team, though, collapsed during the final two months of the season and finished just 21-13 overall and 8-10 in the Big Ten.
Even after leading the Gophers to their first NCAA tournament win since 1997, Smith was fired. He said he harbors no hard feelings.
"I think the people in Minnesota appreciated what we did," Smith said. "We were 8-10 and could've easily been 12-6 or 10-8, but we lost some close games, some overtime games. There's a fine line between winning and losing."
Just as he did in Minneapolis, Smith has inherited a challenge at TTU. The Red Raiders have won a combined four Big 12 games over the past two seasons, and fan interest in the program has dwindled.
Smith, however, said Texas Tech's program isn't such bad shape as some think. He inherits a team that returns four starters along with some key reserves. The decision of last season's starting point guard, Josh Gray, to transfer was a huge hit. But with Big 12 teams such as Texas, Oklahoma, TCU and West Virginia all in a transition or rebuilding phase, the Red Raiders could finish as high as sixth in the conference.
"It's not in dire straits," Smith said. "The good thing is that these kids have the right attitude, the right work ethic. They want to win. They understand the importance of change. They're at an age where they can still be molded."
The other thing that encourages Smith is that Texas Tech has been successful in the past. The Red Raiders experienced four straight 20-win seasons under Bob Knight and made the Sweet 16 in 2005. And in 1995-96, James Dickey led Texas Tech to a 30-2 record and a top-10 national ranking.
One of the biggest obstacles facing Texas Tech is its location, as Lubbock is about five hours away from major cities such as Dallas and Houston. Getting big-name recruits to visit can be difficult.
"I think that's a valid point," Smith said. "The key is just getting guys to visit. Once you've been here, once you've been on this campus, you fall in love with it. It's a beautiful place. It's growing daily.
"When you get to West Texas, Lubbock is the place, it's the city. And Texas Tech is the No. 1 thing people talk about. They've done it here before. It can be done again."
As excited as he is about what lies ahead at Tech, Smith is also keeping close tabs on another new coach on the other side of the country.
Smith's son G.G. is in his first year as a college head coach at Loyola (Md.), where he previously served as an assistant under Jimmy Patsos. G.G. played for his father for three seasons at Georgia and then spent two years learning from him as a graduate assistant at Kentucky.
G.G., 36, said being the son of a legendary head coach does not make him feel any added pressure.
"There's no way around it," he said. "Tubby Smith is my dad. I embrace it. I'm not ashamed to say that my dad is a big-time coach. I'm happy about the career he's had. I want to make my own name, but I'll be lucky if I'm that successful."
Asked how his father has influenced him the most, G.G. said: "My dad has character. He has class. He has integrity. I'm not just saying that because he's my dad. I want to follow him in terms of that. On the court he's great, off the court, he's a class act. That's the main thing I want to take from him."
Tubby Smith actually called to congratulate his son while G.G. was conducting his introductory news conference.
"He's a winner," Tubby said. "He understands what it takes. He'll learn from his mistakes and he'll be willing to change. He's young enough where he still has to formulate his system and his philosophy and his style of coaching.
"He's been preparing for this for a long time, but he knows I'm here if he needs me."
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