It’s been six years since Tubby Smith last coached in the SEC, but when he looks at his opposing coach today in the quest for a Sweet 16 bid, he’ll see someone all too familiar. Tubby Smith and Billy Donovan were assistants together at Kentucky under Rick Pitino from 1989-1991, and since leaving for different jobs, the two have squared off 24 times while coaching at Georgia and Kentucky (Smith) and Florida (Donovan), playing against each other for SEC Championships twice. Smith owns the all-time head-to-head advantage over his former co-worker, 16-10.
Pat Dooley, a columnist from the Gainesville Sun had an interesting take on the diverging paths Smith and Donovan have taken since working together at Kentucky. Donovan, known as “Billy the Kid” for his young, eager personality, took Florida from being a football school playing in the NIT to a team that won the national championship twice in a row and is now consistently atop the SEC. Smith, on the other hand, left the nation’s toughest job for a place where he was “wanted”:
Smith left Kentucky after 10 seasons. The best way to describe his departure is that it was a divorce, and Kentucky got custody of the kids. Smith had grown tired of the toughest basketball job in America, and Kentucky fans were tired of not being the best team in the country every year.
Fans will remember that when Tubby left, he had lost six straight games to Billy Donovan and Florida (going 11-9 against them over his career as Kentucky coach). And interestingly enough, when Smith left Lexington for the Great North, Donovan was one of the first and most popular names tossed around as his replacement. Their careers have been intertwined, and tonight’s game marks one more chapter in their combined histories.
Suffice to say, the two coaches know each other and each other’s coaching style like the back of their hands. This game (tip off is 6:10 pm EST on TNT) will decide a Sweet 16 berth rather than an SEC Championship, but for fans like me who grew up with Tubby Smith as Kentucky’s coach (I bet you feel old now, right?), it’ll be a trip down Memory Lane- and just like old times, I’ll be rooting for the defensively tough Tubby ball team.