Several years ago I worked as a reporter at an award-winning daily newspaper in the state of Indiana.
From a writing and reporting standpoint, the staff was very talented, the editors incredibly experienced.
But, sweet mother of God, as people, my editors were absolutely insufferable.
Towards the end of my time at this publication, there were days where I felt like super-gluing the seat belt in my car to the slot it fastens into before driving full speed off of a bridge into a frozen pond.
Sure, for much of the first year it was easy to suppress my anxieties and frustrations and, well, just my overall disdain for my editors. Cool assignments, important stories and incredible opportunities as a journalist, in the beginning, made it easy to look past the fact that every night I lay in bed staring at the ceiling contemplating whether I should continue working for this newspaper or go panhandle at the entrance of my local Wal-Mart to make ends meet until I found my next career move.
The good can only outweigh the horrifically bad for so long.
I didn’t even make it to two years on the job before I realized enough was enough and it was time to find something new.
You don’t have to work as a journalist in a dying industry — a profession that former Indiana University coach Bob Knight famously claimed was just “a step or two above prostitution” — to experience the phenomenon of realizing things are just not going to get better and it’s time for drastic change.
In fact, if you’re a Texas basketball fan, you’re living with this mental and emotional tug of war as we speak.
A line has been drawn in the sand and you’re either on the side that suffers through this miserable excuse of a season with a cognitive understanding that it’s just flat-out unacceptable, or you’re waking up every day making some sort of ridiculous excuse as to why things aren’t that bad.
Or, if you’re really WOKE! You’re not only on one side of that line in the sand, the miserable side, you’re a part of an elite group of thinkers who know this is much bigger than just the 2018-2019 season.
You’re a part of what I call “The Change Gang.”
Let the official record show that I, Corey Elliot, am officially done with the Shaka Smart experience in Austin, Texas.
Calm down. I love Shaka Smart — great guy. Good basketball coach. Terrific person.
But, I’m done. And you should be, too.
Actually, no. I’m sorry. You’re right. It’s not my place to make that decision for you.
Here are some other decisions I can’t make for you:
Jumping from the second floor of a burning building when there’s no other way out.
You should totally jump. That situation is not going to get better.
Leaving your significant other who you recently discovered was cheating on you with your best friend.
Go ahead and get that moving truck scheduled, sign that lease on your new apartment. That situation is not going to get better.
Seeking medical attention for an erection lasting longer than four hours.
Get yourself to the nearest urgent care. They literally tell you to do so on the commercials. That situation is not going to get better.
Look, I can sit here and make all of these incredibly funny analogies and jokes, but I only get so many words in these stories before Burnt Orange Nation starts making me pay back portions of my salary for going over said word limit.
For those of you who want to see the Shaka Ball experience beyond this season, let’s roll up our sleeves and get elbow deep in this mess that is Longhorns hoops.
Smart, in his fourth season, has a combined record of 59-56.
Smart, in his fourth season, is 14-18 in games decided by three points or less.
Hold on. It gets better.
Smart, in his fourth season, is 25-35 in conference play.
Grand Finale time, ready?
Smart, in his fourth season, is 0-2 in the NCAA tournament and potentially on his way to missing the big dance for a second time since being hired as the Texas basketball Czar.
Okay. I get what you’re thinking and I know what you’re going to say. So, I’ll reason with you and meet you in the middle of your undying support for a guy who isn’t getting the job done.
In year two of Smart’s tenure, he went from having a ton of experience to literally nothing as far as viable talent that gave Texas a chance at being competitive.
In year three of Smart’s tenure, Texas lost its leading scorer to incredibly unfortunate circumstances when Andrew Jones was diagnosed with Leukemia.
Are you ready for the response that none of y’all want to hear?
Smart gets a free pass for year two. Stamped. Signed. Approved.
Smart, despite Jones’ absence from the team, does not get a free pass for year three of mind-numbing underachievement. Sorry. While I am indeed a millennial I refuse to reward Smart with any praise for simply participating in the 2017-2018 basketball season. You don’t get the benefit of the doubt when an NBA lottery pick is on your roster.
And he won’t get a free pass for being sub-par in year four, either.
Texas is 11-8 overall and 3-4 in conference play and I am 100 percent over this tired, same old song and dance.
Wait, no. I’m over this tired, same old song. Dance? What dance? Not this season. Silly me.
I’ve had all of the conversations someone in my position can have — lackluster offense, no real scoring threats, athletes who don’t fit his scheme, poor crowds at home games, etc.
And, for the record, while we’re on the subject, leave Texas students and Austin residents alone. Who in their right mind is, at this point, willing to come out and watch this sad display of rec-league basketball and pay the price of admission to get in, for that matter.
Folks, Chris Del Conte could make sodas $1, hot dogs $2, offer a free valet parking service that comes with a car wash and give every fan a signed TJ Ford jersey and I’m still not sure we would see a crowd that even resembles a Wednesday night NBA G-League gathering.
I realize the Big 12 has been arguably one of the premiere conferences in college basketball for most of Smart’s tenure.
I’m aware that Kansas and Bill Self made a deal with the Devil 14 years ago that makes playing in said conference pointless.
I realize that there are many of you who know this game by the X’s and O’s and will tell me all of the great things on film that Smart’s team has done.
And I know that there is the always easy go-to response: “If you get rid of Shaka Smart, who do you go hire?”
But right now, put all of the rebuttals aside and stop lying to yourself and ignoring what your eyeballs are signaling to your brain.
The product on the court is, and has been, poor. This isn’t an analytical article that’s going to break down the square root of outer space. I have a journalism degree that I don’t use, not a mathematics degree that I worship.
So, dumb it down we shall.
Texas has talented players that are collectively better than the performances we have suffered through. That’s pretty much been the identity of Shaka Ball at Texas.
As for this year, it’s no different, if not worse.
Good basketball teams beat North Carolina, hang around with Michigan State, knock off Purdue and win conference games they’re supposed to. That’s a tell tale sign of a stable basketball program with direction and an identity.
Bad basketball teams, like Texas, fall at home to teams such as Radford, face a double-digit deficit at 8-11 Oklahoma State and then fail miserably at one of the most incredibly awful plays I’ve ever seen out of a timeout to lose by two at Kansas. And here’s the best part: that loss at Kansas is championed by Texas fans like some sort of monumental moment, as if it’s a big step for the program in Smart’s fourth year.
Incredible. A program that should be, at this point, capable of, if not already beating Kansas, at least at home each year, is being celebrated for almost winning on the road at Kansas.
That treatment from some of Texas’ basketball fans pales in comparison, however, to the embarrassing losses on the floor against Radford and VCU.
And I don’t care how tough of a mid-major both Radford and VCU are. You don’t lose those games, especially at home.
I don’t know how some of you do it, clinging to anything and everything that resembles progress. We are past the threshold. We have heard nearly every realistic and asinine excuse.
This program was not in shambles, nor was it at the basement of the Big 12, when Smart took over. This was not a resurrection, similar to Indiana under Tom Crean, or Michigan under John Beilein.
Shaka Smart took over a program with all of the resources every head coach could ever dream of, including a list of Texas Exes in the NBA that showed this is no longer just a football school, in addition to a track record of his own to bring the talent to Austin needed to compete for the Big 12 and return to a place both Texas and Smart have been before — the Final Four.
And yet, it’s year four and when I watch Texas it looks like Smart is coaching in his first year at Texas with a team full of guys he met last summer.
I shouldn’t have to, but I remind myself that this is year four for Smart, that he’s had NBA lottery talent but no tournament wins, which only reminds me that he has led far less talent to much greater wins at a much smaller school, reaching the pinnacle of college basketball with a roster that had no business being there.
I don’t know if any one win or string of wins Texas pulls off this season will change my mind.
But what I do know is this; what an incredible moment it was Wednesday evening, my phone buzzing as I received two push notifications detailing two final scores, right there on top of one another.
“FINAL: TCU 65, Texas 61”
“FINAL: No. 1 Tennessee 88, Vanderbilt 83”
What a time to be alive.