Before landing in Austin on Friday afternoon, new Texas Longhorns basketball head coach Shaka Smart had never set foot in the city.
But the decision to replace Rick Barnes at Texas was a "no brainer" even though Smart said twice that he thought he would never leave the VCU Rams program he took on that magical Final Four run in 2011 because of his relationships with the players and coaching staff.
Why was it a no brainer?
Smart said he could see the unique nature of the Texas program even from a distance, "loud and clear."
"It really took a word-class institution, a world-class athletics program, and a phenomenal place to convince my daughter, my wife, and myself to make this move," said Smart. "We're so excited about being in Austin. We're so excited about being at the University of Texas."
Without disclosing the specific details of the interview process, athletic director Steve Patterson revealed that Smart was the only candidate he interviewed because he'd taken notice of Smart's success at VCU.
"We looked out on the horizon and said, 'Who do we really want?' Somebody that I think all of us have had an eye on for some time, someone who is a great and dedicated coach, someone who plays an exciting style of basketball, is interested in developing the entirety of the student-athletes that we have here both on the floor and off the floor, someone who is consistently operating in an ethical fashion, and someone we really wanted to bring to the University of Texas, we thought of Shaka Smart."
For both sides, it a slam-dunk decision -- Texas was one of the only jobs that could convince Smart to leave VCU and Smart was the only coach that the Longhorns wanted.
"I cannot think of a better person to lead us into the future in men's basketball than Coach Smart," said UT-Austin President Bill Powers.
As reported, the original plan was for athletic director Steve Patterson and senior associate athletic director Arthur Johnson to bring Smart to Austin and then allow him to travel back to Richmond, but Smart told Johnson that wasn't what he wanted to do.
"We've got a lot of work to do," Smart said. "When I interviewed yesterday, Arthur said, 'You know, we can fly you down for the press conference and then fly you back up to Richmond.' I said, 'No, Arthur, I'm not going back to Richmond. Once I get down to Austin, it's time to go to work.' So I'm here to stay."
After meeting with Patterson and Johnson and having spoken earlier in the week with Texas football head coach Charlie Strong, with whom Smart had a previously relationship from the year he spent at Florida, the former VCU head coach was ready to take what he called a "unbelievable" opportunity at a program known for winning championships.
So Smart signed a six-year contract worth about $3 million per season with an option for a seventh year. Though he wasn't willing to discuss the terms of a reported counter offer by VCU to keep him in Richmond, Smart notably didn't deny that the Rams program went $1 million above the Texas offer. As a result, Smart probably left some money on the table, not to mention unlimited brisket, apple fritters, and lap dances.
Since the buyout in Smart's VCU contract called for a $500k base buyout, Texas will pay that, but Patterson said that the Horns would abide by the contract that calls for the two schools to play a home-and-home series. Breaking that particular term would have cost Texas another $250k.
During the press conference, Smart promised to work "extremely hard" in recruiting by building a "top-notch staff" that will focus on the state of Texas primarily, but will also look nationally because the program is an international brand, the last part of which sounds straight from Patterson's mouth.
Though Smart didn't mention the word "Havoc" in his press conference, he did say that the style of play will be aggressive, fast-paced, with plenty of the press that made him famous at VCU. Offensively, since he likes to play an aggressive, up-tempo attack, he wants shooters to space the floor, something that was sorely lacking late in the Rick Barnes era.
From a schematic standpoint, Smart recognizes that he'll have more frontcourt options and better frontcourt play than he ever had a VCU, so he'll be willing to adapt to his personnel and adjust to fit those strengths. Still, Smart has some core components to his philosophies, like being aggressive, competitive, and hustling for loose balls. He also emphasizes the interpersonal aspects that the game that lead to team chemistry.
"To me, the best teams are all about being connected and having a genuine love, and caring about one another, and having genuine love, care, and concern for the guy next to you. That's the type of environment we will create off the court and that's the product that you will see on the court."