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Keith Taylor: Following in Calipari’s footsteps, Tubby Smith can achieve success at Memphis

John Calipari once called Memphis home. Now, a former Kentucky coach is taking up residence in the birthplace of Rock and Roll.

Looking for a proven leader to take the Tigers back to national prominence, the Tigers called on former Wildcats coach Tubby Smith to lead the way Thursday, ending the search for Josh Pastner’s replacement.

Tubby Smith was hired as coach at Memphis Thursday

Former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith was hired as coach at Memphis Thursday

It’s a move that shouldn’t be a surprise considering championship coaches haven’t stayed long in Lubbock for long recently.

Tommy Tuberville, who enjoyed success as Auburn’s football coach and led the Tigers to five New Year’s Day bowl appearances, lasted just three seasons with the Red Raiders before taking a similar post in Cincinnati more than three years ago.

Even former Indiana coach Bobby Knight, a Hall of Famer, couldn’t produce a consistent winner at Texas Tech, which plays second fiddle to the University of Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor and others in the Lone Star State.

The Red Raiders not only consistently compete with rival in-state programs for supremacy in Texas, they also battle with the likes of Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State among others in the tradition-rich Big 12 Conference, putting them in a difficult spot when it comes to competing for conference championships on a yearly basis.

Cleaning up the mess created by his predecessor Billy Gillispie at Texas Tech, Smith just finished one of his best coaching jobs at the collegiate level and led the Red Raiders to the NCAA Tournament last month and earning national Coach of the Year accolades. It was the program’s first berth in the Big Dance in nearly a decade. Ironically, Gillispie was Smith’s replacement at Kentucky in 2007.

Before packing for Texas, Smith guided Minnesota to at least 20 wins and three NCAA appearances in five of his six seasons with the Golden Gophers but was let go after falling to Florida in the Sweet Sixteen in 2013.

Smith’s replacement at Minnesota, Richard Pitino, led Minnesota to the NIT championship in his first season but has achieved very little during the past two years.

Unlike his previous two coaching stops, the lure of coaching at Memphis gives Smith a chance win conference championships on a regular basis, considering the Tigers compete in the American Athletic Conference, comprised of programs such as Cincinnati, Connecticut, Central Florida, Houston, SMU and Tulsa.

As Calipari proved during his tenure at Memphis, the Tigers can succeed even with the Memphis Grizzlies located in the same city, giving the area two solid programs at the collegiate and professional level.

During his nine seasons at Memphis, Calipari officially guided the Tigers to at least 30 wins in four of his seven seasons with the Tigers and a national runner-up finish in 2008. As Calipari proved, solid recruiting and successful coaching can lead to greatness in Memphis.

Smith, who led the Wildcats to the NCAA championship in 1998, is making his sixth move as a head coach, but facing a different task than his two previous coaching jobs.

The tools are already in place for Smith to succeed in Memphis. Look for the former Kentucky coach to have the Tigers on the prowl for a national championship sooner rather than later.

Keith Taylor is a senior sports writer for KyForward, where he primarily covers University of Kentucky sports. Reach him at keith.taylor@kyforward.com or @keithtaylor21 on Twitter

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