There’s more reason than one which led to the departure of Tubby Smith to Minnesota in the spring of 2007, but one of the major reasons that could have been behind his decision to leave Kentucky is one that many fans overlook. In a 2009 WKYT story, Dick Gabriel pointed out that Tubby wanted to create an opportunity for his son, Saul, to coach under him. Given the current state of affairs at Kentucky and a University anti-nepotism policy, heading elsewhere was the best option for Tubby to create such an opportunity for his son, and you can’t blame a man for making a career change to benefit his family. Saul did work at Kentucky as a graduate assistant, but did not hold a regular paid position. Below is an excerpt of Gabriel’s story which also touches on the close bond between the elder and younger Smith’s.
What made Smith think about a change of address in earnest was his desire to have his son, Saul, join his coaching staff. Everybody knows what kind of pressure he was under to make changes among his assistants, even after the 2004-05 season that saw him a rebound or two away from that elusive second trip to the Final Four.
Call it loyalty, call it stubbornness, Tubby dug in. But toward the end, sources tell me, he agreed to clean house (with the exception of Dave Hobbs) if he could bring Saul on board.
Trouble was, UK has an anti-nepotism policy, the same one of which former Athletics Director Larry Ivy ran afoul when his step-son, Rob Manchester, landed a graduate assistant’s job with the football team.
It’s understandable as to why Smith would want to hire his own son, who eventually did join him at Minnesota. I can relate; my own son, Jack, sometimes travels with me to sporting events to lend a hand. My daughter Kate often pitches in on the UK broadcasts at Commonwealth Stadium and Rupp Arena. I enjoy having them around, seeing as how just last week they were toddlers.
And if you read Gene Wojciechowski’s excellent piece in ESPN The Magazine a few years ago, you’d understand the special bond between Tubby and Saul. Tubby and Donna nearly lost Saul when he was very young to a medical condition requiring extensive surgery, instilling within them the fear no parent should have to experience.
Whatever you may have thought about Tubby as a coach at Kentucky, he’s unquestionably a great man and a great father. Tubby and Saul have each been great representatives of the University and both played a major part in bringing us our seventh National Championship, and we salute them both today, on Father’s Day. It wasn’t easy playing for his father at Kentucky and the criticism he faced from fans at home, but mostly on the road, were unfair. No, he wasn’t the greatest talent, but there simply wasn’t a great backup point guard behind Wayne Turner on the roster when Rick Pitino left for Boston, and Tubby brought in Saul to fill that void. In Tubby and Saul’s time together at Kentucky, the Cats captured three SEC Championships, three SEC Tournament titles and one NCAA National Championship. Saul even ranks 10th all-time at UK in career assists with 363 and led the Wildcats in assists during both the 1999-2000 and the 2000-01 seasons and in steals with 51 during the 2000-01 season.
Saul followed Sean Sutton to become the second UK basketball player to play for his father. Could Brad Calipari, a rising Sophomore at Lexington Christian Academy, be the next son to play for his Dad at UK? Brad has played competitively on the AAU circuit and is already taller than Brian Long. If it meant that his Dad would be here in Lexington for at least another seven years to have Brad at UK as a walk-on, I am positive that Big Blue Nation would welcome Brad with open arms.
Other UK father and son duo’s that come to mind are Dicky Lyons Sr. and Lyons Jr. on the football field, as well as Jim LeMaster and his son Preston LeMaster.
If you have your own special UK-related story involving your father or son, please share with us in the comment section below.
Happy Father’s Day!
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Bill Keightley Report : Never to be forgotten.
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