Before the Texas Longhorns won the NIT, there was buzz that head coach Shaka Smart might want to find a soft landing spot. Now he’s connected to a good Big Ten opening as the Michigan Wolverines search for John Beilein’s replacement, the school’s first basketball coaching search since hiring Beilein in 2007.
One oddsmaker even has the odds of Michigan hiring Smart at 7/1, while another puts them at 12/1. Perceived favorites include former Michigan standout Juwan Howard, who has been an assistant coach with the Miami Heat since 2013, and Butler head coach LaVell Jordan, a former Beilein assistant who grew up less than 60 miles west of Ann Arbor. The last assistants under Beilein, like Luke Yaklich and Saddi Washington, are also candidates if Michigan wants to maintain continuity.
There are several developments worth considering — Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan would be an appealing candidate for any top basketball program going through a search and his time in OKC may be running short, as the Thunder picked up his contract extension for next season, but he doesn’t have any job security past that.
Donovan reportedly isn’t interested in the job, however, according to The Michigan Insider, but did apparently endorse Smart for the position. Smart spent one year as Donovan’s assistant at Florida before he landed his first head coaching job at VCU.
Aside from Smart’s 71-66 record at Texas and lack of an NCAA tournament win during his tenure in Austin, one major impediment for a prospective suitor is his buyout — Smart’s contract is fully guaranteed for $12.9 million. So while that contract provides the best job security that Smart has with Texas, it’s also an inhibiting factor for any school that might want to hire him.
The best way out of that is for athletics director Chris Del Conte to negotiate a lower buyout, which would keep the Longhorns from having to pay roughly $10 million to fire him next spring if the 2019-20 doesn’t result in clear improvement. And, in fact, Del Conte is reportedly willing to do so.
One other aspect to note here is that agents often use perceived interest from other organizations or programs to land contract extensions — Smart got an extra guaranteed season when the Houston Rockets reportedly considered him as a potential head coach — but there’s no leverage to gain here because an extension isn’t on the table. However, his agent may be doing some rehabilitative work on Smart’s reputation in case he ends up on the job market a year from now.
The interest from Michigan may be legitimate and there’s even some talk that he could be among the frontrunners. The oddsmakers don’t back up that assertion, but the Texas offseason did just get a little bit more interesting this week.