VCU head coach Shaka Smart rejected UCLA’s overtures and signed an extension with VCU that will pay him approximately $1.5 million a year through 2023 at VCU.
In a move that will endear him more to the VCU and college basketball community, Smart insisted on increases in salaries for his staff and more benefits for them in addition to improved travel and better meals for his players, all perks that will help VCU remain a contender every year. He likely turned down millions of dollars for himself to stay at VCU in a display of loyalty that is rare in this era.
Smart and his “HAVOC” system of play have turned VCU into a legitimate college basketball power. He is considered among the game’s premiere coaching talents and led VCU to the Final Four after entering the tournament as a “First Four” team two years ago. Last year, his squad barely lost to Indiana, 73-71, in the Round of 32.
Smart turned down Illinois, which offered to at least double his salary, last year, and schools like UCLA, Minnesota, and USC immediately started to court him this year after Michigan destroyed VCU in the Round of 32.
When the new Big East expands to include two more teams for the 2015 season, there is still a chance the league could invite VCU, though that seems less likely now than it did months ago.
Should VCU go to the Big East, which would be a perfect fit that would give Georgetown a geographical rival in the conference, Smart would get an opportunity to coach on one of college basketball’s biggest stages.
If VCU does not go to the Big East, Smart seems intent on building a powerhouse in Richmond.
Smart likes coaching college athletes and big-time programs and UCLA, with their litany of one-and-done players, are more like semi-professional squads in this era. While college football coaches like Nick Saban can coach athletes for at least three years, Smart would not have been able to do so at schools like UCLA.
At VCU, while Smart may not be able to get the athletes he could have at UCLA–or enjoy Southern California’s perfect weather–he will be able to do what he loves: coach and teach college athletes.