Is Shaka Smart A Shook One?

VCU coach Shaka Smart is either smoking that new cuckoo Kush or he’s scared of the “bright lights, big city” challenge of true greatness.

Why else would he tell UCLA, a storied program with money to blow, starving for a savior, to step off?

For the third offseason in a row, the “hottest” coach in the game shunned opportunities to move to an elite program and really prove his coaching mettle in a big-time conference with blue chip prospects. This time he would be inheriting a 25-win team boasting the No. 2-rated recruiting class in ‘12 .

People say it’s good Smart didn’t take the job, because ex- Bruins coach Ben Howland reached three Final Fours in four seasons and still got axed for poor performance. The expectations are unrealistic.

That could be the reason, but what about the flip side of that?

Some guys embrace the challenge of coaching high-pressure, flashy programs, because it’s the next natural progression towards greatness.

At this level, being the best at your craft should be every coach’s goal. There’s no success without challenge. It seems that, these days, everybody’s looking for the easy way out. Smart’s already making millions – $1.5 million to be exact – after signing the recent contract extension with VCU, keeping him in Richmond through 2023.

Included in the extension, was more dough for his staff and program. Smart secured more salary for his staff and things like better meals for players, improved travel conditions and other perks.

Proponents of the move say turning down offers from UCLA, Minnesota, USC and, in the past, Illinois and N.C. State proves Smart’s commitment to VCU as it gets its feet wet in the Atlantic 10 conference. They say his extension proves he’s not the typical cash-chasing coach. He’d rather build his kingdom than inherit one.

Others say he is just waiting for the perfect gig. Well, I don’t see Mike Krzyzewski retiring any time soon.

Maybe Smart sees VCU becoming what John Chaney built Temple into in the 80s and 90s. That would be an accomplishment, but remember, Temple was always a five-star recruit short of getting over that championship hump.

Smart, 35 got a raise to $1.2 million after the 2011 season when he set off the VCU come-up, leading the Rams to the Final Four. This season they made a quick exit in the round of 32, but it hasn’t affected his stock.

Surely Smart believes in the VCU program and is comfortable there. Why would anyone want to leave a place where they are deified and can’t do any wrong?

All he has to do is maintain VCU’s popular, frenzied, pressing style and make the tourney every year and the administration is gravy. It’s a much easier way to live. Until Smart wins a chip and creates his own worst enemy—a spoiled fan base—the expectation levels at VCU will never be as demanding as they are at schools with legit annual shots at a National Championship.

Maybe he’s not waiting for the perfect job. He often asks, “Why mess up a good thing?” when asked about his reluctance to take a big-time gig.

Seems like Smart is just chilling with the Richmond pace and the way people appreciate how he’s made the pedestrian Rams program, almost remarkable. Smart’s only pressure is to make sure the Rams make March Madness and the university gets just enough publicity to recruit players decent enough to pull some tourney upsets and protect his growing reputation as a future coaching legend.

When discussing his own career, Chaney expresses deep pride and dedication in his 24-year track-record with Temple.

Coaches don’t last that long. Chaney says he was fortunate enough to stay on the right track, “only thing, you can’t be sitting on that track because there’s a train coming.”

Smart should heed Chaney and be careful with his pickiness and his comfortability. This is the college coaching business. Sticking and moving keeps you from getting run out of town.

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