RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Shaka Smart is leaving Virginia Commonwealth to coach the Texas Longhorns.
VCU sports information director Scott Day confirmed to reporters gathered at the campus Thursday night that Smart was making the move. Smart met with VCU players earlier in the evening at the Siegel Center, the team’s home arena, and at least one player was seen crying when he left.
Texas athletic director Steve Patterson flew to Richmond on Thursday to close the deal.
Smart, who has won at least 26 games in each of his six seasons at VCU, has been one of the hottest names in college coaching since leading the Rams to the Final Four in 2011. Patterson has zeroed in on bringing Smart to Texas immediately after firing former Longhorns coach Rick Barnes last weekend.
Terms of Smart’s contract were not immediately released and VCU said a statement would be released Friday. Barnes made $2.62 million last season. Smart made $1.8 million with the Rams.
The coach slipped into the building Thursday without speaking to the media gathered. VCU players were escorted from the meeting by university public relations and did not comment.
At VCU, Smart took over a program that had had great success under Jeff Capel, and then Anthony Grant. Smart hopes to avoid the pitfalls at Texas that his predecessors encountered when they left to take over programs at universities considered “football schools.”
Capel lasted five years at Oklahoma before being fired, and Grant spent six at Alabama before he was dismissed.
By leaving before May 1, Smart owes VCU a $500,000 buyout. His contract also contains a provision that if he became a head coach at another institution, that school would have to play VCU in a home-and-home series, or pay VCU $250,000.
Smart is bolting for a Texas program that hasn’t been able to unseat Kansas atop the Big 12. But the Longhorns also boast the wealthiest athletic department in the country and easy access to some of the nation’s most fertile recruiting grounds in Dallas and Houston.
Barnes led Texas to 16 NCAA Tournaments in 17 seasons but his teams haven’t made it out of the first weekend since 2008. Texas officials declined comment on Smart’s hiring Thursday night.
Barnes’ best years came from 2003-2008 when Texas made its first Final Four in more than 50 years and twice more reached the tournament’s final eight. Texas also earned the program’s first No. 1 ranking in the 2009-2010 season.
But the program had plateaued and the early-round exits in the tournament started to mount, despite rosters full of future NBA talent.
Smart is sure to energize Texas.
Under him, the Rams won the CBI postseason tournament in his first season. But he really became a hot coaching commodity when VCU made its monumental run in the NCAA Tournament the following year. The Rams went from being a questionable selection, barely getting a bid and playing in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio, to beating five major-conference schools to reach the Final Four.
The Rams have been back in the NCAA Tournament each of the past four seasons, but were eliminated in the round of 32 in 2012 and 2013 and lost their first game in overtime each of the past two seasons.
Beyond the Final Four run, this year might have been Smart’s best coaching job at VCU.
The Rams lost Briante Weber, the leader of their “havoc” defensive style, on Jan. 31 to a knee injury, and played the last month and a half with scoring leader Treveon Graham bothered by a high left ankle sprain, sometimes even sidelined.
VCU (26-10) lost six of 10 late in the season, enduring its first three-game slide in Smart’s six seasons, before winning five straight, including four in four days, to win the Atlantic 10 title.
Smart has led VCU to at least 26 wins in six consecutive seasons, a feat matched only by Duke. With the interest he has generated in basketball, a $25 million basketball practice facility is under construction and scheduled to be ready for use in the fall.