Shaka Smart to return to Texas for 2020-21 season

Stephen Wagner

Shaka Smart’s hot seat has officially cooled off.

A Texas basketball spokesperson confirmed a report Friday that the Texas men’s basketball head coach will return to the Forty Acres for the 2020-21 season, putting to rest some of the angst and controversy surrounding the direction of the program.

Smart struggled mightily for the majority of the 2019-20 season, which included a 38-point loss to West Virginia — the worst loss of the Smart era. Texas was humiliated again nearly a month later, this time by a sub-.500 Iowa State team without its best player, but the Longhorns ended the season by winning five out of their last six games and throwing themselves back to the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Longhorns finished in a four-way tie for third and with Smart’s best record in Big 12 play in his five years at Texas.

But the COVID-19 outbreak made decisions more difficult for Texas Athletics Director Chris Del Conte. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Thursday that the cancellation of the Big 12 men’s and women’s basketball tournaments will cost the conference about $6.6 million.

“I think you’ll see budgets flat and salary budgets flat,” Bowlsby said of campus budgets. “It’s not a time when we’re going to throw a lot of money around. We’re all going to have to be careful about our management of resources.”

Smart’s buyout for the remaining three years of his contract sits at $10.5 million. His current annual salary is $3.3 million, with another $795,000 in bonuses and incentives. Searching for a new coach would likely involve buying out that coach’s contract in addition to Smart’s, a move which could put a strain on Texas Athletics amid a worldwide pandemic that resulted in the cancellation of all NCAA spring sports. Del Conte also has to make a decision on whether or not to offer women’s basketball head coach Karen Aston a new contract, as Aston’s current deal expired this year.

The Longhorns will presumably return their full roster next season, and five-star Austin native Greg Brown III is expected to commit to Texas with Smart returning. The nation’s No. 9 overall prospect would be one of the highest-ranked recruits to sign with Texas.

It’s unclear if Smart’s job was saved by the cancellation of the remainder of the basketball season just minutes before Texas’ Big 12 Tournament matchup with Texas Tech. If the Longhorns had taken care of business against the Red Raiders and likely returned to the NCAA Tournament, it would have given Smart a much more comfortable cushion to sit on. If they hadn’t, and the COVID-19 outbreak hadn’t forced the cancellation of remaining spring and winter sports along with some serious financial remodeling for universities, Del Conte’s decision might have been different.

But for now, Smart can finally sit down.