OPINION: A Done Deal…Seven Years Later
When Shaka Smart was announced on March 25 as the 18th head coach in the history of the Marquette University basketball program, many including myself were hesitant to believe it.
We had been through this dance before with this exact coach, seven years ago. At the time, I was a sophomore at Marquette, postulating with classmates as to why outgoing coach Buzz Williams felt compelled to leave the program after three Sweet Sixteen appearances and one Elite Eight nod in six years. As rumors ran rampant during the replacement search, one that quickly gathered steam was that the then-Virginia Commonwealth University head coach Shaka Smart was headed to Milwaukee. Smart had burst onto the scene over the prior four years, leading VCU to a Final Four appearance in 2011 and four other March Madness appearances.
Tweets from several prominent figures covering the Marquette beat from local TV reporters to bloggers to a classmate of mine running Marquette University TV all grew increasingly assured by their sources on March 24, 2014 that Shaka was the hire. One even went as far as to use a phrase that became synonymous with the incident, saying that Shaka to Marquette was a “Done deal.” Smart’s Wisconsin ties including having been raised in Madison lent credence to the reports.
In reality, it was far from a done deal. Smart stayed at VCU for another season, before departing to the University of Texas the following year. Marquette instead hired Steve Wojciechowski, who held the role until his firing on March 19. Smart was asked during his introductory press conference about the “Done deal” saga, but offered little revelatory information about the truth to those rumors.
“At that time, and obviously something was reported that wasn’t true, we had (at VCU) a group of guys that frankly I wasn’t ready to leave,” Smart said. “Any coaching change, because I went through one myself, is something that I have a lot of sensitivity to.”
His tenure at Texas was perhaps underwhelming in terms of tournament pedigree with three appearances and zero wins in six seasons, but Marquette is certainly hoping a return home could yield more positive results. Smart’s hire at the least adds some more fuel to the I-94 rivalry with Wisconsin as the son of Madison looks to improve upon Wojciechowski’s 4-3 record against the Badgers.