As April concluded, Shaka Smart was forced to make a fairly significant decision within his staff. With former Longhorn and last season’s Director of Basketball Operrations, Jai Lucas, being a coveted assistant coach due to his recruiting ties, primarily in the Houston area, Smart would have to give Lucas a reason to stick around. Smartdid just that by promoting Lucas to one of his three assistant coaching roles, which, subsequently led to Smart demoting Mike Morrell.
In a recent media availability, Smart provided some clarity on his thought process in promoting Lucas and the importance of assuring he kept Morrell around.
"It was something that, for me, it took me all of a couple hours when I first got here to realize that Jai Lucas is someone that … he's just got a real connection to this program; the players here, the former players here, Smart said. "Obviously, with his connection to the city of Houston, being from Houston with his family, it was very obvious to me that this was a guy we needed to have here."
When Smart first arrived on the Forty Acres, Lucas received a promotion from special assistant to last season’s role as the Director of Basketball Operations. That was a position Smart knew he wouldn’t be able to keep Lucas limited to for long, calling him a "young, up-and-coming coach."
Other coaches saw much of the same in Lucas, which speaks to why TCU attempted to lure him to Fort Worth as an assistant coach. To make room, Smart would have to demote one of Darrin Horn, David Cason or Mike Morrell, with the latter two serving under Smart as assistants at VCU. Morrell would be the odd man out, although, as Smart notes, it was a necessity for Texas to keep Morrell on board.
"I feel like on our staff, we have four guys that I view as an assistant coach," Smart said. "Well, the NCAA says you're only allowed to have three so we decided to reorganize Mike Morrell. It was very, very important that we kept him on our staff."
In the words of Smart, the 32-year-old Morrell is a "head coach in the making." Typically, a demoting would indicate a coach being one step further from a head coaching opportunity, but in his new role, which is Director of Program Development, Smart sees this as an opportunity for Morrell to grow alongside the coach he’s assisted for three seasons, dating back to VCU.
"His role is such that he's going to be working even more closely with me than he was before when he was in an assistant coaching role," Smart said. "I think for him, it's an opportunity for some real personal and professional growth. One of the thing's that's been terrific is he's looked at it that way, too."
In his new role, Smart details some of Morrell’s duties as working specifically with Smart and team projects, "basketball stuff," recruiting organization and player mentoring, among other responsibilities.
Smart called the move, "a change we’ve made for right now." With a successful season in Austin, another opportunity for Lucas, Horn or Cason could thrust Morrell right back into his previous role.
Former special assistant Cody Hatt has been promoted to Lucas’ previous role as Director of Basketball Operations.