Mark Tupper's blog

Smart makes sense as prime pick

2012-03-14T13:17:00Z 2012-03-17T00:16:02Z Smart makes sense as prime pickMark Tupper
March 14, 2012 1:17 pm  • 

It seems that every year at about the same time as the Big Ten Tournament, I get my annual cold/flu/sinus infection/March Madness mayhem that creeps into my chest, finds its way into my nose and seems to enjoy staying for about two or three miserable weeks.

So sure enough, just before heading off to Indianapolis last week, I started feeling puny.

“Just like clockwork,” my wife said, completely unsurprised that sickness had arrived in time for one of the busiest periods of the year.

I toughed it out through Saturday but by Sunday I was feeling pretty awful and it’s been a tough early week so far.

I say this only to let you know why I haven’t been blogging and writing with the same frequency prior to the Bruce Weber departure.

And I might be a little slow here for a few days because I really need to get feeling better again.

I’m working on it.

In the meantime, I’ve had a few days to ponder some of the names that have turned up on the coaching “wish” lists.

Shaka Smart gives us a “leader in the clubhouse” guy but often times these searches swerve away from the leading candidate.

He fits on so many levels, though.

I like that he’s young; no one will be whispering about “the old man.”

He seems to relate well with his players, and not just behind closed doors. I’m ready for a coach who isn’t afraid to give a player the occasional hug on the bench after a job well done.

He’s satisfy the Board of Trustees’ demands for an African-American without making it look like anyone strained to find him.

I think he’d budge the excitement needle in Chicago, both with the columnists who will announce this hire with either enthusiasm or a shrug, and among high school coaches and athletes who would acknowledge that Smart arrives with a little street cred as a guy who has rocked the NCAA Tournament bracket recently.

I like that his wife got her master’s degree in journalism at Northwestern and he’s recruited in Chicago enough to at least know there’s a difference between the North Shore and the South Side.

And he’s a guy with a modest enough salary (by basketball coaching standards) that a deal could be put together to satisfy Smart and not break the athletic department bank.

He’s not the only candidate I like, but this one makes a lot of sense.

I love Sean Miller at Arizona, but that seems far-fetched.

I had dinner with an Illini donor while in Indianapolis and his advice to Mike Thomas was to “think big.”

He pointed out that in his opinion, Ron Guenther never thought big enough. He thought safe. Here’s a chance to reach for something unexpected. He even suggested Billy Donovan and said to not be afraid to pay $4 million or more per year.

I’m not pushing Donovan as either a good fit or at all practical. The point is that “thinking big” is a good idea. And maybe Shaka Smart will be received as thinking big.

If nothing else, it would be perceived as identifying a main candidate and then going out and making it happen.

Whomever Mike Thomas hires, there will be complaints.

But Shaka Smart would get more thumbs up than thumbs down.

And Smart would get very, very few shrugs.

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