If head coach Shaka Smart’s seat wasn’t hot before the week started, it’s scalding now. Texas men’s basketball traveled to West Virginia and received a first-class Mountaineer molly-whopping, yet the game still wasn’t as close as the 97-59 score indicated.
“We can play a lot better than that,” Smart said after the loss. “We didn’t tonight. There are some reasons for that. Those all need to be put out on the table and addressed.”
It was a Murphy’s law type of game for the Longhorns. Shots weren’t falling, the defense struggled and their effort seemed to leave the floor five minutes into the first half. If it wasn’t clear yet, Texas’ 38-point loss Monday delivered the message loud and clea — it is time to move on.
Smart’s tenure as head coach has been one of dignity, insight and thoughtfulness, but it hasn’t led to results. Aside from his first year in Austin in 2015, when the Longhorns were upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament as a No. 6 seed, Texas has finished under .500 in conference play each season. The Longhorns have missed The Big Dance twice and lost in the first round the two years they made it. Even when they had some level of success, like when they won the NIT championship in 2019, it wasn’t in the right tournament.
“Me personally, I didn’t come to college to play in the NIT,” sophomore guard Courtney Ramey said after last year’s NIT championship. “I’ve been a winner all my life, so I just want to win. So winning that was I guess you could say a step, but the NCAA (Tournament) is why people play Division I basketball.”
Smart’s reputation coming from VCU was a defensive coach who was able to maximize talent. Smart has abandoned the “Havoc” mentality he adopted at VCU, but the offense is where the lack of improvement has led to perpetual struggles — Texas currently ranks 305th in the nation in points per game. It’s not hard to acknowledge the fact that Texas isn’t a basketball school. They have remained in the backseat throughout the entirety of the Smart era, but there isn’t an excuse for the Longhorns to have this many issues.
Obviously, there are other factors as to why Smart is still the coach. First, the buyout on his contract would be approximately $10.5 million. That eight-figure check has been a good deterrent up to now, but Texas can’t keep having these performances. Most of Texas’ losses this season have been by double digits.
And as unsatisfying as the NIT championship was for Ramey and the Longhorn faithful, the title of champion goes a long way to keep Smart in his position.
With the performances Texas has put up to start Big 12 play, it looks as if the Longhorns will finish with a losing conference record for the fourth consecutive year. As a program, Texas has had streaks of losing seasons that lasted four years, but never under one coach.
It would be unfair to compare Smart to his predecessor Rick Barnes, considering Barnes is the winningest coach in program history. But fair isn’t always factored into the equation when wins are the expectation.
While Texas doesn’t have a history of firing coaches midseason, mediocrity isn’t something that is rewarded with extensions and top-flight job security. Every other coach who has been in his position of performing to a specific standard has been fired. It doesn’t matter whether the decision is today or at the end of the season. If Texas is going simply based on the precedent it has set for itself, Smart has overstayed his welcome.