Sadly, the magical and unprecedented run of the VCU Rams through the 2011 NCAA Tournament has come to a close. With that finality settling in for the program, the big (only?) question surrounding VCU basketball in the past couple days was the future of head coach (and new media darling) Shaka Smart. Someone cue The Clash, because all we heard these past couple days is, should Shaka stay or go?
VCU and their "havoc" defense ran roughshod over multiple BCS conference programs on its way to the Final Four, and Smart's enthusiasm and engaging personality quickly won over a national media corps that for the most part macheted VCU's mere inclusion in the tournament. Shaka, if I may be a bit casual, pulled out every motivational trick in the book during the run, squeezing every last ounce out of his Colonial Athletic Association squad. Even after the crushing loss to Butler (Smart's first postseason loss by the way), Shaka's postgame comments seemed to indicate he wasn't going anywhere.
But did that ever stop the 24/7 media cycle from coaching carousel speculation? Heck and no. Smart just led his team on a brilliant tournament run. He's young and passionate. Athletic Directors now know who he is. This must have meant he was going for the big payday at a BCS school, right?
Um, it seems like folks haven't been paying attention. There was no reason for Smart to leave VCU right now, and if this report is correct, he made the right decision to stay.
I don't claim to now the ins and outs of the North Carolina State basketball program, so this is not intended to be a slight, but why the heck would Smart go to a perennial doormat in the ACC when he can build a powerhouse in a rising mid-major conference like the CAA? Smart doesn't need the money. With bonuses, he made a little over $600K this year. VCU AD Norwood Teague has already stated his desire for Smart and his assistants to stay, and that will surely come with a raise for both the head coach and his staff. I think this quote from senior AD Mike Ellis summed up the current situation best, on both sides:
"With Shaka, it's not about him," Ellis said. "He'd rather have more for his staff and more for the program. At the same time, we have to make it about him, also."
Keep in mind too that VCU will benefit big-time from its Final Four run. VCU facilities are already being upgraded, with a $4 million renovation project on the hoops facilities already underway. Recruits will instantly know Smart and the Rams when he walks into a living room thanks to the Final Four run, which is huge given the departures of seniors Joey Rodriguez, Jamie Skeen, Ed Nixon and Brandon Rozzell. The AD will make sure to keep Shaka happy by keeping his assistants happy. The CAA is quickly building a reputation as mid-major tournament player year in and year out. Etc.
I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not only happy Shaka stayed because it makes for a great story. I'm also happy because, frankly, it seems to me that it would have been crazy for him to leave. The VCU kingdom is his to rule, for as long as he wants, and I for one want to see a long and distinguished reign by Shaka and the Rams.