head coach

Shaka Smart replaced longtime head coach Rick Barnes in early April. Smart led VCU to a spot in the Final Four in 2011.
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

The 2014–2015 school year was a roller coaster year for Texas athletics. Fans saw shake-up at the top in men’s basketball, another national championship for men’s swimming and diving and another trip to the Final Four for volleyball. But those changes and successes were punctuated by disappointment — Texas football ended its season with two blowout losses, and baseball is on the verge of missing the NCAA Tournament yet again. Here are five of the top sports highlights from the past school year.

Barnes out, Smart in

After 17 seasons and a recent loss of momentum, former basketball head coach Rick Barnes received his notice after this year’s short March Madness run. Days later, Barnes announced he was headed to Tennessee — and the Longhorns hired former VCU head coach Shaka Smart.

Smart is the first African-American head basketball coach to be hired at Texas.

Smart will bring a “havoc” style of play, an up tempo defense and an offensive system that helped propel VCU to the Final Four in 2011. He has been to the NCAA Tournament every year since 2009.

Sophomore point guard Isaiah Taylor decided to return to Texas for his junior season, and may well serve as engine in Smart’s system next year.

Men’s swimming and diving captures 11th national title

The Longhorns dominated the pool at the NCAA Championships in March, winning the team’s 11th nation championship. Texas led the meet from the start and finished with 528 points. Second-place California ended with 399 points.

In addition to the team titles, the Longhorns also claimed seven individual titles. Sophomore Will Licon and freshman Joseph Schooling led the way for Texas, winning two events each.

Texas is now tied with Ohio State for the second-most national championships in swimming and diving.

Volleyball returns to Final Four

The Longhorns returned to the Final Four in December largely on the strength of senior outside hitter Haley Eckerman. Eckerman finished the season with a team-high 44 aces and 3.24 kills per set in her final year.

The accomplishment was the third-straight trip to the national semifinal round for Texas — a feat only matched by the 1986–1988 team.

Still, the season ended in disappointment. Texas fell behind unseeded BYU 2–0 and couldn’t rebound, losing 3–1 in the national semifinal round. The Longhorns finished the year with a 27–3 record overall and a 15–1 Big 12 record.

Strong’s first season yields mixed results

Head coach Charlie Strong had an up-and-down season in his first year at the helm for the Longhorns. On the one hand, the defense was stout, finishing first in the conference in pass defense and total defense. Senior defensive tackle Malcom Brown had 11 tackles for loss and was selected by the New England Patriots in the first round of the NFL draft.

But the offense struggled with first-year starting quarterback Tyrone Swoopes and a revolving door along the offensive line.

Strong did finish the year on a positive note, locking down the No. 9 class for 2015 according to ESPN.

Baseball fails to live up to expectations

Before the season began, Texas head coach Augie Garrido said this season’s Longhorns would be just as good as the 2005 national champion winning team.

It was a bold statement, but a fair one — Texas was coming off a deep run in the College World Series and had just fallen a game short of playing for the national championship.

But after 48 games, the Longhorns have shown they have little in common with the ’05 team. Texas holds a .500 record, and, barring a run at the Big 12 championship, it will likely miss the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years.

“We really assumed and thought we had the leadership on this team as a result of how close they were and how many guys were coming back,” Garrido said.

Unfortunately for Texas, Garrido assumed wrong, and the team failed to live up to its own expectations.

Photo Credit: Virginia Scherer and Iliana Storch | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: This is part one in a two-part series about the racial integration of Texas’ men’s basketball team. Part two, which will be published Thursday, will tell the story of Larry Robinson, one of the first African-American basketball players at UT. 

In early April, when Texas’ newest head coach Shaka Smart took the podium at his introductory press conference at the Frank Erwin Center, he had culminated a climb that had begun over 45 years earlier.  

As the Longhorns’ 24th head coach, Smart became the first African-American coach of the basketball program,  something he said he takes very seriously.

But Smart’s path was set by a trio of athletes — Sam Bradley, Jimmy Blacklock and Larry Robinson — who became the first black basketball players after a long but quiet integration process through the 1960s.

In November 1963, seven years after Texas integrated its undergraduate program in 1956, the Board of Regents agreed to desegregate all athletic activities at Texas. But Texas’ first African-American basketball player didn’t take the court for another five years. 

Harold Bradley, head coach of Texas from 1956–1967, had strived to recruit multiple standout African-American athletes through the 1960s with little reward. But his best chance came with James Cash out of Terrell High School in Fort Worth.

Bradley made a full push for Cash — even going in front of the Austin City Council to lobby for a human rights commission to show that Texas was striving to improve race relations.

Cash eventually decided to stay close to home at TCU, becoming the first African-American basketball

player in the Southwest Conference in the 1966–1967 season.  

Another slim prospect came with the well-known Lew Alcindor, now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Despite the assistants’ lack of optimism on the big man, Bradley was confident Alcindor would sign with Texas — even writing up a preliminary press release to announce his signing. But Alcindor went to UCLA and the Longhorns saw another opportunity pass.

“There were legitimate concerns of how do you integrate when you’ve had nothing that is an example of it,” said Bill Little, then-assistant sports information director.

By the time Leon Black took over as head coach of the basketball program in late spring 1967, Texas, which played in front of miniscule crowds at Gregory Gym, was still struggling to find success on the recruiting trail.

Texas was a football school, and it was well known. The school’s sports information director at the time described, “There are two sports at Texas — football and spring football.”

“We always had that back seat,” Black said. “Every time I went to recruit somebody, they had an article. And they said ‘Why should I come to Texas? Here’s your SID, he’s saying there are two sports at Texas, and basketball is not one of them.’”

Texas had little pull with African-American athletes. The national attention of Texas’ largest desegregation case of Sweatt v. Painter in 1950 had created distrust among the black community in Texas, and there were no black athletes with the Longhorns at the time to prove anything different.

“Many [African-American athletes] weren’t accustomed to playing around white players,” Robinson said. “They felt there weren’t enough black students [at Texas]. And that was true.”

Quietly, Samuel Bradley would become that example. Black reached out to Bradley, a freshman on the Texas track team at the time. He became the Longhorns’ first black basketball player in 1967.

Bradley, however, wasn’t the impact player Texas was looking for. Three years later, Blacklock and Robinson were.

Blacklock, formerly a star athlete at Austin High School, transferred to Texas from Tyler Junior College before the start of the 1971 season while Robinson became the first black basketball player to sign a letter of intent at Texas.

“I know I could play and race wasn’t an issue,” Robinson said. “I could acclimate myself to white society; it wasn’t for me a strange thing.” 

During the 1972 season, Robinson created a lasting impact at Texas. While he led the Longhorns to their first Southwest Conference title, Robinson had helped set the path for future black athletes at Texas. Within the next two years, Texas added at least four more African-American players.

“I can’t tell you how happy I was when someone asked me how many African Americans we had and I could say I don’t know,” Little said.

Today, Texas joins Stanford as one of just two teams in the Power 5 conferences to have a black head coach for football and basketball. But, that fact isn’t as important as it once was.

“It shows you how far we’ve come,” Black said. “We’ve come to far that it doesn’t matter. You look for the best coach. If he’s black, he’s black. If he’s white, he’s white. If he’s brown, he’s brown. I think we’ve come that far.”

On the track, junior sprinter Morolake Akinosun has had success in the 100m and 200m dashes and 4x100m and 4x400m relays.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Junior sprinter Morolake Akinosun has earned a superlative from track and field head coach Mario Sategna.

“She’s Texas track’s most versatile athlete,” Sategna said. 

Akinosun smiles humbly and turns the personal praise into a team tribute.

“It means a lot, but what it really means is that I have his trust,” Akinosun said. “At a meet, practice or even the training room, I will do anything to help my team.”

To every question, Akinosun gives a calculated answer, emphasizing the team. After her leg in the winning women’s 4x100m relay at Saturday’s Longhorn Invitational, Akinosun was already preparing for the team’s trip to the Big 12 Championships.

“We’ve been putting in the hard work since September, and now it gets to really be seen,” Akinosun said. “A meet like this is one of the very few times in track and field that the team concept comes to mind; you’re not just running to win. You’re running for your team.”

Akinosun’s original plans had her succeeding next to her sister, Moriyike, as teammates at the University of Illinois. But as fate would have it, she left the frigid north for Austin. 

“My initial draw to Texas was coach [Tonja Buford]-Bailey. While at Illinois, I developed an amazing relationship with her.” 

Buford-Bailey, a former Olympian medalist, made the move to join coach Mario Sategna at Texas, and Akinosun had no hesitation in following her mentor. 

“I wanted to continue my career with her as my coach,” Akinosun said. “However, after just being on the campus for a visit, I fell in love with it and didn’t want to go anywhere else. She’s my mom away from mom.”

Buford-Bailey’s training has produced wins upon wins for Akinosun this year. In the outdoor season alone, she has amassed victories in the 100m dash, 200m dash, 4x100m relay and the 4x400m relay. Akinosun attributes her success to the coaching staff at Texas. 

“They give me amazing coaching strategies and helped develop me into an athlete that can run 100-400 meters and be on both relays,” Akinosun said.

Off the track, Akinosun is known on the team for being a character and someone who brings joy to the locker room.

“If I was stranded on an island and could only have two teammates, it would be [senior sprinter] Morgan Snow and [sophomore sprinter] Chris Irvin,” Akinosun said. “If I’m stranded on an island, I at least want to be able to laugh, and Morgan does that. And if we’re stuck on an island, we need someone to get us off. Chris would be the guy to figure that out.” 

When her running days are over, Akinosun has her next step figured out.

“When I’m done running track — hopefully after a couple Olympic games — I would love to pursue a master’s degree in biomechanics,” Akinosun said. “I want to build rehab equipment and prosthetics to help athletes or just people in general.”

Although Texas has been able to rack up hits during the season, it is struggling to bring in runners in scoring position.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

In the summer of 1975, then head coach Cliff Gustafson led Texas baseball to the first of two national titles it would win under his watch. For the Longhorns program, this marked their seventh College World Series appearance in Gustafson’s first eight seasons at the helm.

But over the next three seasons, the program missed the NCAA Tournament twice, including a humbling 1978 season when the it had a 12-12 record in conference play. Texas bounced back in 1979, reaching the College World Series semifinals and would not miss the tournament field for the rest of Gustafson’s tenure. 

Similarly, in 2011, the Longhorns reached Omaha for the seventh time under head coach Augie Garrido, but they were eliminated after losing both of their games. Up to that point, Texas had been as good as any program in the nation since Garrido took over in 1997, with two National titles in the previous decade. 

The Longhorns missed the NCAA Tournament in both 2012 and 2013, dropping every series in Big 12 play in 2013. Similarly to 1979, in 2014, they bounced back from a couple seasons of frustration to reach the College World Series semi-finals. 

Texas, ranking in the top 10 in preseason polls, entered the 2015 season with high expectations as a squad capable of producing another celebration in Omaha. Instead, barring a miraculous turnaround, this team could be remembered as one of the biggest disappointments in program history. 

The Longhorns are currently in grave danger of missing the NCAA Tournament field for the third time in the past four seasons. This would make the members of the current senior class the first since the NCAA Tournament began to make fewer than two appearances during their four-year careers. 

Texas sits at 82nd in the country in RPI and are 0–9 against the RPI top 25, including sweeps at the hands of TCU this past weekend. The Longhorns pounded out 30 hits during the series and are batting .316 in their past eight games, raising their season batting average from .242 to .253. Texas also slugged at a .515 clip raising its total on the season from .361 to .391.  

During that same span the team produced at least four runs in five games, after doing so only three times in its previous 12 games. However the production of the Texas bats has not guaranteed a win, as the Longhorns are just 4–4 in the past seven games because of struggles on the mound and on defense. 

Texas’ opponents have also scored 45 runs over this time, an average of over 5.5 allowed runs per game. Of those runs, 31 of them have been earned, pushing the team’s total ERA above 3.00 for the first time since the February series against Minnesota. 

With just two conference series left in the regular season, it appears the Longhorns will be unable to build on the momentum of last season’s postseason run. Unless they win the Big 12 Tournament in Oklahoma City, which would give them an automatic bid, the Longhorns are almost certainly going to miss the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four seasons.

Photo Credit: Carlo Nasisse | Daily Texan Staff

Men's tennis

No. 10 Texas fell just short of taking down No. 1 Oklahoma in the semifinals of the Big 12 Men’s Tennis Championship on Saturday, ultimately losing to the Sooners, 4–3. 

In a nail–biting finish, the score was tied at three wins apiece when Texas sophomore George Goldhoff squared off against Oklahoma sophomore Alex Ghilea in the final match of the day. Goldhoff won the first set of the match handily by a score of 6–2, but Ghilea rebounded to win the second set, 6–3. The third and final set would decide the outcome of the matchup between the Big 12 rivals.

Despite falling behind, 5–6, in the third set, Goldhoff fought off elimination by breaking Ghilea’s serve and tying the match at 6–6 to send it to a third-set tiebreaker. The momentum from Goldhoff’s break did not last, however, and he dropped the tiebreak by a score of 7–3. 

“George has nothing to hang his head about,” head coach Michael Center said after the game. “His level of play continues to go up with every match down the stretch. He just came up a little bit short against a great opponent today. I’m proud of him.”

Saturday’s match featured a high-profile contest between two of Big 12’s premier players at the No. 1 singles line. No. 4 Søren Hess–Olesen took the court for Texas against No. 2 junior Axel Alvarez Llamas. In the most anticipated match of the day, Hess–Olesen fell to Alvarez in straight sets, 6–4, 7–5. The loss drops Hess-Olesen’s record to 18-4 for the year, with all losses coming against Big 12 opponents.  

After being eliminated from Big 12 competition Saturday, Texas will conclude its season at the NCAA Men’s Tennis Championship starting May 8. Seeding for the tournament will be announced at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

— Michael Shapiro

Track and field

At the oldest track meet in the United States this weekend, the Texas men’s and women’s track teams earned two victories.

Philadelphia’s Penn Relays posed a challenge for head coach Mario Sategna’s Longhorns — one they handled nicely. The women turned in another strong performance after an already-impressive season, winning the women’s 4x400-meter relay and the women’s 100-meter hurdles.

In the 100-meter hurdles, senior Morgan Snow, one of the veterans on the team, picked up the win with a time of 13.13 seconds. The sprinter was less than .3 seconds off her personal-best time of 12.88, but on a cold weekend, her time was plenty to secure the title.

In the heavily anticipated 4x400-meter relay, the women picked up the win with a time of 3:29.46. The group won last year’s event at the Penn Relays and came back in hopes of a repeat, which it accomplished with ease. Second-place University of Technology, Jamaica finished a full two seconds behind the blazing Texas foursome, which was led by junior Courtney Okolo’s 50.04-second anchor leg. This win is the third in five years for the lady Longhorns at the historic meet.

Texas will not have to travel this weekend as it hosts the Longhorn Invitational at the Mike A. Meyers Stadium. The meet will begin Saturday at 12:00 p.m. and last until the last 4x400-meter team crosses the finish line.

— Bradley Maddox

Women's golf

The momentum from recent, late-season improvement did not make a difference for the Texas women’s golf team as it finished in sixth place with a score of 887 (+23) at the Big 12 Championships in San Antonio this weekend.

On The Dominion Country Club golf course, junior Tezira Abe led the Longhorns, tying for 10th place with a three-round score of 220 (+4). Abe’s 10th-place finish was her best finish this season and her score, 220 (+4), tied another personal season best.

After tying for first place at her last tournament, the Ping/ASU Invitational, senior Bertine Strauss struggled to play up to her past success. She posted her worst round of the season with a 77 (+5) while scoring a 222 (+6) overall. While those numbers are atypical for Strauss, her performance was still good for 20th place. 

Two strokes behind Strauss was sophomore Julia Beck, who scored a 224 (+8) for a 22nd-place tie. Two other Longhorns — junior Natalie Karcher and sophomore Anne Hakula — also contributed to the team. Karcher posted a score of 228 (+12) and tied for 28th place, while Hakula put up a score of 229 (+13) and tied for 32nd place.

Baylor easily ran away with the tournament, finishing with a score of 867 (+3) — 12 strokes ahead of second-place TCU.

— Bridget Bonasoro

Women's rowing

Texas’ 12th-ranked women’s rowing team outperformed No. 11 Indiana, Columbia and Notre Dame over two days of racing on Lake Lemon in Bloomington, Indiana, to take home the Dale England Cup on Saturday morning. The Longhorns collected 63 points over the course of the races, enough to earn them first place over Indiana, which finished with 57 points. Notre Dame finished in third with 42 points, while Columbia trailed with 18. 

Texas soundly defeated all of its opponents in Friday’s races, which pitted the Longhorns against Columbia’s varsity eight, second varsity eight and varsity four teams and Indiana’s first and second varsity four teams in a series of dual races.

Saturday’s races featured a change in the racing format as inclement weather forced officials to abandon the dual races in favor of four-lane races, in which all four teams raced against each other. The schools competed in the varsity eight, second varsity eight, varsity four and second varsity four events.

The Longhorns began the day with a second-place finish behind Indiana in the varsity eight race to earn 27 points. The race was the last time Texas finished anything but first at the regatta. The Longhorns beat out Notre Dame in the second varsity eight race for a top finish and 24 points and then completed the day with a pair of wins in the varsity four and second varsity four races to add 12 points to their total.

“Both fours did a great job, and we’re starting to show some good depth on the team,” head coach Dave O’Neill said.  “This is going to be very important as we move forward. It was a good weekend, and I’m pretty happy with the way our team raced.”

— James Rodriguez

Former Longhorn player, cancer survivor and Texas State head coach Ty Harrington returns to UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

Tuesday night, Texas State’s head coach, Ty Harrington, made a surprise appearance at UFCU Disch-Falk Field in front of an unusually large crowd. 

Harrington, a former Texas player and coach, has been away from the Bobcats while he battles rectal cancer.

The former two-time Longhorn letterman hugged Texas head coach Augie Garrido at home plate as the crowd cheered after the opposing coaches exchanging lineup cards before the game.

Garrido said the embrace at the plate was emotional because of his friendship with Harrington.

“I know what he’s going through,” Garrido said. “I was with my mother when she went through that. She didn’t make it, but he did. So we thank God for that. It was very emotional.”

Harrington said the crowd’s response was uplifting, especially since he hasn’t been around the game for a while.

“The crowd was unbelievably gracious tonight to applaud me at the beginning of the game,” Harrington said. “I appreciate that from the Longhorn crowd, and I certainly appreciate that from Augie and his staff. … To have these kinds of things are heartfelt and nice. It makes you feel good.”

This was Harrington’s second appearance this season. His first was in Waco against Baylor on April 2.

During his playing days as a Longhorn, Harrington was a two-time letterman. He was infielder from 1984–1987 and went to the College World Series three times.

Harrington continued his time at Texas as a coach. He served as a student coach and a graduate assistant coach from 1988–1991. He moved to Arkansas State to become an assistant coach for the Red Wolves in 1992 before serving as head coach for Northeast Texas Community College in 1995 and Blinn College in 1999.

Harrington became the Bobcats’ head coach in 2000 and has lead Texas State to a 507–381–1 record, three Southland conference championships and three NCAA Regional Tournaments.

While Harrington enjoyed his time at the ballpark, he isn’t sure when he’ll be back full time. He said he’s hopeful that time will come soon, as he is done with his cancer treatment and is starting to feel better.

“I’m trying to work my way back in there,” Harrington said. “My first thought is I’ve got my health before the dugout. I don’t know that I’m ready to get in there and grind.”

Garrido said he has admired Harrington’s strength as he has battled cancer.

“I love what he’s had to go through and how he’s conquered it,” Garrido said. “I admire him. I respect him. And I love him for winning the battle.”

Texas ultimately won the game 7–3, but the play on the diamond only served as a backdrop to an emotional night at the ballpark.

Photo Credit: Joe Capraro | Daily Texan Staff

A lot of kids dream of making the pros and getting paid to do what they love. 

For most, it’s just that — a dream. But for the eight Texas women’s golf team members, this dream of making the big leagues and playing in the LPGA Tour is close to reality.

“All have the ability to make the LPGA,” head coach Ryan Murphy said. “It’s just a question of if that’s what you want to do with your life.”  

Murphy’s statement is twofold: it’s an endorsement of his players’ abilities and also a recognition of the difficulties of earning and keeping an LPGA Tour card.

There are three qualifying stages to earning the tour card. About 300 women begin the process with Stage I of the LPGA Qualifying Tournament. The top 100 players and ties from the first stage move onto the second tournament. From the second, the top 80 and ties advance to the third and final stage, which is a 90-hole tournament over five days, after which the top 20 finishers receive
LPGA memberships.

“Love and passion for the game is necessary to be a professional,” Murphy said. “I have inherited a group of young women who work hard and are capable.” 

Last weekend at the Ping/ASU Invitational, junior Tezira Abe posted two season-low rounds of 70 (-2). At that same tournament, senior Bertine Strauss tied for first place with a three-round score of 210 (-6). 

A few weeks earlier at the Anuenue Spring Break Classic, sophomore Julia Beck had her best finish — a tie for ninth. All three hope to parlay this recent success into professional careers.

“My goal is to play on the LPGA Tour and contend for major championships,” Beck said. 

Her experience as a Longhorn has offered her the opportunity to play against the best and understand how she can improve on the course, specifically with her driver in her attempts to hit the ball longer and shorten the course.

As for Abe, advice from Murphy has encouraged her to be more prepared.

“Coach said that I should be first to arrive to practice and last to leave from practice,” said Abe. 

In addition to putting in the practice time and working hard, Abe said she has been able to learn from Kate Golden, 18-year LPGA veteran and associate head coach. 

Murphy, a first-time Division I head coach, believes Texas won’t be the end of the line for Strauss.

“You’ll see Bertine on television soon,” Murphy said. “It’s been her dream for some time.”

These players all have aspirations of becoming the next member of the tour, but each at her own pace. 

As a senior, Strauss hopes to finish this season, graduate and pursue the tour this fall. Abe will graduate in December, play through her college eligibility and then move to achieve LPGA membership. As for Beck, she will make the journey to the tour once her game reaches a point where she believes she can contend among the best.

These players know their dreams are close. It’s just a matter of realizing it.

From left to right: David Cason, Mike Morrell, and Darrin Horn, Shaka Smart's new assistant coaches.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Kevin Kilhoffer (left), VCU Athletics and Kentucky Sports Radio

Less than a week after being hired as Texas’ new men’s basketball coach, Shaka Smart has finalized the rest of his coaching staff.

Two of Smart’s assistants at Virginia Commonwealth University, Mike Morrell and David Cason, will come with him to Texas. Former South Carolina head coach Darrin Horn will join the Longhorns as well.

Horn joins Smart’s staff with nine seasons of head coaching experience with South Carolina and Western Kentucky. He guided the latter to the Sweet 16 in 2008. Three years ago, Horn left his coaching career with a 171–11 record to take a job as a college basketball analyst with ESPN and the SEC Network.

Beyond his experience, Horn’s game plans also share many similarities with Smart’s. As a coach, Horn was known for his up-tempo offense, pressure defense and intense conditioning.

“He has extensive experience as a head coach,” Smart said. “I’ve always been impressed by Darrin’s intensity as a coach and teacher of the game.”

One of the assistants Smart is bringing with him, the 32-year-old Morrell, has worked with Smart for the last four seasons and spent two of those seasons in the assistant role. 

The other VCU transfer, Cason, has over 20 years of coaching experience, including his past season at VCU. Before joining Smart’s staff, Cason was an assistant with Vanderbilt, Tulsa, TCU and Eastern Illinois, as well as the director of basketball operations at North Carolina and Notre Dame.

“David did a terrific job for us this past year at VCU,” Smart said. “He’s been a part of some very successful coaching staffs and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to our program.”

In addition to his assistants, Smart is bringing along his VCU strength and conditioning coach, Daniel Roose, and keeping former Longhorns guard and special assistant Jai Lucas in Austin. Lucas, the lone holdover from this season’s staff, will serve in a newly-created role as director of basketball operations.

“I’ve been incredibly impressed with him in the short time since I arrived here,” Smart said. “Everyone I have talked to, including our players, has spoken glowingly about him and his impact on this program. Jai played here and is from the state of Texas, and he has terrific relationships around Texas. Most importantly, he has phenomenal potential in this profession.”

Filling in the final spot as the special assistant to the head coach is Denny Kuiper, who spent the last 14 years as a sports communication consultant, working with both VCU’s Final Four team in 2011 and Marquette’s Final Four team in 2003.

Shaka Smart was introduced as the head men’s basketball coach at a Friday press conference. Smart joins Texas after six seasons at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

When men’s athletic director Steve Patterson was looking for a new head basketball coach, he said he felt Shaka Smart was the only man for the job.

“We said: ‘Who do we really want?’” Patterson said. “Somebody who’s a great, dedicated coach; somebody who plays an exciting style of basketball and is really interested in developing the entire group of student-athletes both on the court and off the court; somebody who is consistent in operating in an ethical fashion; somebody that we really wanted to bring to the University of Texas. We thought of Shaka Smart.”

On Thursday, Smart, the only candidate interviewed for the job, agreed to join Texas’ basketball program. He replaces former head coach Rick Barnes, who was asked to leave UT earlier after a 17-year tenure last week.

Patterson said Smart received a seven-year contract, with the first six years fully guaranteed, with an average annual compensation of about $3 million. As part of the buy-out with Virginia Commonwealth University, Texas will pay the Rams $500,000 and either play them in a home-and-home series or pay another $250,000.

Smart quickly became one of the hottest coaching commodities in the country when he led the 11th-seeded Rams from the play-in game to the Final Four in 2011. His teams were consistently good over his six years as a head coach. He won at least 26 games in every season and made the NCAA Tournament in each of his final five years in Virginia.

Many schools had tried to pry Smart away from VCU, but all were unsuccessful.

“To be honest, I didn’t know if I would ever leave VCU because of the relationships that I had there with the players and the coaching staff,” Smart said. “It really took a world-class institution, a world-class athletics program and a phenomenal place to convince my daughter, my wife and myself to make this move.”

But Texas was a “no-brainer,” Smart said.

“When the opportunity was presented to me to be the head coach here at Texas, I quickly realized this was something different,” Smart said. “This athletics department is all about championships, and I knew I was going to have the opportunity to work with a great group of young men.”

Smart is the first African-American head basketball coach at Texas. Texas will now be the third Division I school with African-American head coaches in both basketball and football, joining Stanford and Georgia State.

Smart said he feels the weight of his position as a “first.”

“I take that very seriously,” Smart said. “I grew up and was able to learn from and benefit from some terrific role models [and] some great mentors. … I hope that in this role as the men’s basketball coach at the University of Texas, I can play this role for someone else in this terrific state.”

Smart said he is going to bring his style of “havoc” basketball with him from Richmond, Virginia, which means a lot of pressing, fast breaks and overall aggressiveness.

“I can tell you right now, when you come to the Erwin Center to see us play, you’re going to see an exciting style of basketball,” Smart said.

However, Smart knows  he will have to adjust that style a bit with his new roster — one that has a plethora of skilled big men.

“That means maybe you adjust what you do to fit those guys’ strengths,” Smart said. “But at the same time, we’re not going to get away from what I believe in. We’re always going to be aggressive. We’re always going to be highly competitive.”

After the deal was announced, players said they agreed Smart’s confidence and style of play will have exciting implications for the program.

“My immediate reaction to hearing about Coach Smart was excitement,” junior forward Connor Lammert said. “We are turning a new page in the book and are real excited about it.”

Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

It wasn’t always about basketball for new head coach Shaka Smart.

He remembers sitting at a typewriter when he was young, sending letters to his father, who left for a supposed vacation to his native Trinidad.

He remembers his father coming home about eight years later, judgmental, difficult and harsh.

He remembers hearing the door slam as his father left for the final time in 1994 in the midst of a cold Wisconsin winter.

But Winston Smart was not your typical absent father. When the family heard from him for the first time years after the first disappearance, he was getting his law degree from Washington University in St. Louis — one of his four degrees. He valued education over everything.

“He just didn’t like that I was so into sports,” Smart told CBSSports. “He always wanted me to be just about academics, … and he crossed the line a few times.”

In Smart’s single-mother home, school was always first.

He had his share of basketball success at Oregon High School in Wisconsin, leaving as the all-time leader in assists and a second-team All-Badger pick, but he didn’t get any offers that would make you jump out of your chair.

No one would have second guessed him if he had called it a career and, instead of pursuing basketball, chosen between Harvard, Yale and Brown for his college education.  

“Well, I love the game,” Smart said at his introductory press conference Friday afternoon. “Like these guys, at a young age, I just wanted to play as long as I could play.”

With those Harvard and Yale acceptance letters sitting on the table, Smart developed a close, paternal relationship with Bill Brown, the head coach at Division III Kenyon College.

That opportunity to play for the father he never had led him to the small liberal arts school in the middle of Ohio.

Then, Brown left him after his freshman year.

“I remember just crying for like three days,” Smart said in December. “I was 19 and lost because this guy, my father figure, just left. And, honestly, that’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed at VCU. It factors into my mind. It really does. What happened to me is a factor.”

That’s what’s led Smart to his loyalty. He builds as many relationships as he can wherever he is, and he doesn’t want to let anyone down.

That’s part of the reason he turned down North Carolina State. And UCLA. And Maryland. And Marquette. And Illinois. And Tennessee.

“I got the chance to help them along the way with that, but I really cherish those relationships,” Smart said. “As I mentioned, that’s the hardest part of leaving. I didn’t know if I would ever leave because of that.”

But when Texas came calling, Smart saw a “no-brainer” opportunity — a chance to lead Texas, with all the in-state talent and state-of-the-art resources, to its first national championship.

He looks forward to instilling “havoc” in the Frank Erwin Center. He looks forward to working with his first great set of big men and playing in a Power Five conference.

But all those take a backseat to his main goal — being that father figure and guiding them in the right direction.

“The hope is that you are creating a relationship and strong bond that is going to last forever,” Smart said. “I think when you go through certain shared experiences, particularly when those experiences involve first adversity and then triumph and preferably championships, there’s nothing like that to bring people together.”

Isn’t that the kind of man you want to run your program?

“We pride ourselves at the University of Texas in a great academic program and in a great athletics program and in doing it with integrity,” UT president William Powers Jr. said. “Given that background and criteria, I can’t think of a person to lead us into the future in men’s basketball than coach Smart.”