Houston Shaka Smart could have cashed in at North Carolina State. Chris Mooney could have bolted to Georgia Tech.
Instead, these in-demand basketball coaches agreed to contract extensions with their current schools, Smart at VCU, Mooney the University of Richmond.
Butler’s Brad Stevens — his Horizon League champion Bulldogs played in their second consecutive national title game Monday — appears similarly unimpressed by the big time’s bright lights and dollar signs.
Optimists will see a trend. Cynics will see isolated cases.
As usual, the truth is in between.
Smart, Mooney and Stevens are well-educated, discriminating 30-somethings. They aren’t about to swoon at the first, or even second, suitor.
Moreover, each is blessed to work for schools where the support transcends salary.
Not to dismiss the considerable pay raises afforded Smart and Mooney, each of whom will earn more than $1 million annually. But operating budgets, facility upgrades and staff compensation also are paramount to success.
VCU, for example, does not fly commercial. The Rams bus to Colonial Athletic Association destinations such as James Madison, Old Dominion and William and Mary, but when traveling by air, they charter.
That’s a significant logistical and competitive advantage. It saves time and missed classes, while showing players and prospects that basketball is a priority.
No, the Rams can’t approach N.C. State’s resources, ACC affiliation and two national championships. But bigger isn’t necessarily better.
Ask Jeff Capel. He left VCU after three seasons for Oklahoma and coached the Sooners and Blake Griffin to the Elite Eight two years ago. Last month, Oklahoma fired him.
The lesson: What’s the rush? Smart is 33, Stevens 34, Mooney 38. Their motivational and coaching chops aren’t going to desert them, and while none is sure to make future Sweet 16s or Final Fours, all are going to win.
Smart’s mindset was evident after VCU’s Final Four loss to Butler, when a reporter asked if this were a “once-in-a-lifetime run.”
“You don’t know me very well if you ask that,” Smart said. “Of course it’s not a once-in-a-lifetime run. We’re going to try to do this every year. It’s not easy, there’s no question about it. In our program, we’re going to continue to build.
“This is my second year. You know, we’ve got a lot of things that we still want to accomplish. This was a terrific run. Are we capable of doing it again? Sure. No question. If we’re capable of coming together as a group and playing aggressive, confident, loose basketball, and we have the right guys out there, it’s certainly possible.”
Does that sound like a coach with Mayflower on speed dial?
Not to say VCU, Butler, Richmond and other mid-majors are destination jobs. If so, Brian Gregory wouldn’t have left Dayton for Georgia Tech last week, and Sean Miller wouldn’t have exited Xavier for Arizona two years ago.
But mid-majors don’t have to be stepping-stones, either.
“It’s a great place to coach,” Horizon commissioner Jon LeCrone said of the mid-majors. “It’s not the great five-year experiment anymore, where after five years you either leave for a better job or get fired.”