MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota coach Tubby Smith agreed to terms Monday on a contract extension with the university through the 2016-17 season by adding three more years to his original deal.
Talks first began between Smith’s agent and school officials during the 2010-11 season. After roughly a year and a half, the two sides finally reached a point where they were comfortable with both the language and the timing of the contract.
Terms of the deal weren’t immediately available. Smith’s original contract was signed for seven years and about $1.8 million annually.
Entering his sixth season with the Gophers, Smith has yet to win an NCAA tournament game since leaving Kentucky and coming to Minnesota. But the Gophers rallied in March after another below-average performance in Big Ten play to reach the NIT championship game and finish with 23 victories. Smith was unavailable for comment, but in a statement distributed by the university, he said, ”I believe that we can get the job done here. The commitment from the university is there to continue to grow the program, and I am looking forward to being a part of that.”
The most significant part of that commitment is the construction of a practice facility to bring the Gophers up to speed with the rest of the Big Ten and around the country. Smith’s agent, Ricky Lefft, said no specific timetable was spelled out but that a ”mutual agreement” has been forged between the university and the coach that the new building is imminent.
”We needed to make sure there was a commitment to make that investment at the university,” Lefft said in a phone interview. ”It’s been accepted by the institution, and certainly by coach, that this is necessary to advance the program.”
New athletic director Norwood Teague said he looks forward to working with Smith ”to help lift Gopher basketball to even greater heights.”
Though the 23 victories last season were the most in the program in 22 years, Minnesota is still below the level most fans, officials and followers expected when Smith arrived in 2007. He took over a probation-ravaged program still reeling from the academic fraud scandal revealed in 1999, but a pair of one-and-done appearances in the NCAA tournament and a 38-52 record in Big Ten play has fallen short of the hopes he brought from Kentucky, where he won a national championship in 1998 and never finished worse than the second round. He is 103-68 with the Gophers.
”Coach has made it clear it’s his desire to be at Minnesota and turn Minnesota into a powerhouse,” Lefft said. ”He’s excited about getting it done.”
Smith first mentioned the contract extension in March 2011 after the Gophers were eliminated from the Big Ten tournament to finish 17-14 and end his personal streak of 17 straight 20-win seasons. The subject came up when he was trying to quell the latest rumor that he would move on to another school.
Smith, Lefft and university officials were asked by reporters several times over the last season about the negotiations, and each time the answer was a variation of, ”it’s almost done.” The holdup, Lefft said, was attributable to a number of factors. The university presidency turned over last year, with Eric Kaler replacing Robert Bruininks. There were other financial and political matters that took priority in the school’s central administration, and there was also the sensitivity of announcing a lucrative contract during an economic downturn and time of tight budgets at the university when several employees were taking pay cuts or being furloughed or laid off.
But, Lefft said, the talks were never contentious and always positive in tone
”It’s always been a desire of the university to get it done, and it’s always been the desire of the Coach to be at the university,” Lefft said.