Shaka Smart is locked in as the head coach for the Texas Longhorns through at least the 2022-23 season.
That’s what’s stated in Smart’s contract, anyway.
Texas was locked in to advance to at least the second round of the NCAA Tournament in two of the last three seasons.
That’s what was stated on my NCAA Tournament brackets, anyway.
Expectations can drive you crazy.
My expectations, clearly, are the reason why I think this is an extremely crucial year for Smart that will dictate the narrative surrounding his tenure at Texas and his future moving forward.
Texas’ expectations are the reason why Smart signed an extension following his first season that locked him in through 2022-23.
My expectations would suggest Smart has not done enough in the little bit of time he’s been on the Forty Acres.
Texas’ expectations would suggest Smart hasn’t had enough time to do a lot on the Forty Acres.
Expectations can drive you crazy.
At a preseason media availability in late September, Smart was asked about every coach’s nightmare — the hot seat — and the answer was on brand for the calm, cool, and collected head coach.
“I don’t sit down,” Smart said with a grin when asked about the topic of being on the hot seat.
“I’ll let (everyone else) worry about that other stuff. I’m just appreciative and grateful every day to be able to work with these guys and help them move towards being better.”
Fair enough, but who didn’t see that response coming?
Every coach in the history of being asked if their underachievement has put their job in jeopardy answers with the same level of optimistic refusal to accept the reality of the situation.
And don’t let me scare you into speeding to the grocery store, buying basic survival supplies, and returning home to build a fallout shelter.
This is hot seat chatter, not a debate about who Texas should hire to replace Smart.
Sure, nobody expected Smart to lead to Texas to a Final Four in his first three seasons. But nobody expected Smart to be winless in the NCAA Tournament in his first three seasons, either.
Again, this isn’t meant to be doom and gloom clickbait, but the fact of the matter is a giant line has been drawn in the sand and how you feel about Smart’s first three seasons based on your expectations will determine which side you’re standing on when the Longhorns tip off their 2018-19 season.
As for me, well, I want to be rationale, but it’s hard to navigate Smart’s 50-50 record at Texas with glowing optimism.
I want to be logical, but it’s hard to make sense of the inability to win a single NCAA Tournament game in the two Texas trips since Smart took over the program.
In his first season, Smart had a mature, veteran roster that he inherited from former coach Rick Barnes, but the season ended in the first round of the NCAA Tournament with a heartbreaking loss by way of a Northern Iowa half-court heave.
I’ll give him a pass on his second season, which went about as well as anyone could have predicted.
Even with the unfortunate and much-more-important-things-in-life-than-basketball leukemia battle Andrew Jones endured last season, I still find it incredibly frustrating that the Longhorns could be so astonishingly mediocre with Mohammed Bamba holding it down in the paint.
Smart simplified the on-court roller coaster that has been his first three seasons at Texas as, essentially, basic growing pains when taking over a program. Smart said it’s important to try and find his type of players while keeping the one-and-done blue chip recruits like Bamba in the mix as well. It’s the battle of building rosters that will have success in the long run while adding talent that can help Texas win in the meantime.
“I think our roster is really grown in terms of stability from a couple years ago,” Smart said last week. “These last two freshman classes that we’ve signed, those are our kind of guys. This year’s freshman class is a really, really good group of ‘program’ guys. I think we’ve made major progress with the culture of our program.”
In coach’s lingo, this is the year Smart feels like he finally has his first roster that’s true to his style of play and the culture he wishes to have in his program.
So, back to that line in the sand.
Either Smart has been juggling chainsaws with a blindfold on while riding a unicycle, or he’s been painting the Sistine Chapel, masterfully and methodically putting together a masterpiece.
It all depends on your expectations versus the results of his first three seasons.
I’m not going to tell you whether I think Smart is on the hot seat.
I’ll just simply say that this is the most important season of Smart’s coaching career and it’s not even close.
That seat might not be hot, but it certainly isn’t comfortable.