Chris Graham: Smart move? VCU coach decides to stay where he is

Shaka Smart is not going to be at VCU much longer. That was the conventional wisdom even before the Rams’ surprise run in the 2011 NCAA Tournament had come to an end.

And then comes today’s shocker. Smart, 33, has agreed in principle to an eight-year extension at Virginia Commonwealth, after reportedly spurning N.C. State.

Is this a good move on Smart’s part? I think so, and here’s why.

Pay: VCU is reportedly going to pay Smart $1.2 million in base salary a season, a substantial raise from the $325,000 in base salary (and $640,000 total including performance bonuses) that he made this season. I have no idea how they can do it, but the fact that they are puts VCU as close to the big leagues as you can get. (Consider UVa. coach Tony Bennett, in the ACC, who brings home around $1.8 million annually.)

Pressure: Or lack thereof. If you’re Bennett at UVa., you need to win and win soon, and win consistently. Consider Bennett’s predecessor, Dave Leitao, ACC Coach of the Year in his second season in Charlottesville, fired after year four for posting one losing campaign. Smart is coach-for-life at VCU, or at least as long as he wants to be. (I’d like to see the buyout VCU is putting on him considering the base pay. Probably pretty steep.) He goes to an N.C. State, and he could just as easily do a Jeff Capel (a Smart predecessor at VCU) and end up jobless four years from now.

The Gonzaga Effect: VCU could very well be the next Gonzaga in the sense of how the ‘Zags have built a consistent NCAA Tournament contender as a midmajor-in-name-only. Gonzaga is able to recruit with the big boys due to the reputation that it has built for itself. Now that VCU has been to the Final Four mountaintop and has the game’s hottest young coach at the helm for the long term, it’s almost inconceivable that it won’t be able to build a consistent winner along those same lines.

Column by Chris Graham. More sports at

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