In the early morning hours of Oct. 20, Minnesota assistant coach Saul Smith was pulled over and arrested for DWI.
Smith was immediately placed on unpaid leave, but since then the university has come forth in saying that he will retain his position and return to the team on Nov. 13.
There may not be any right or wrong answer in this case, but the question must be asked: is Minnesota making the right decision?
Smith’s arrest comes on the heels of another, recently-settled matter, involving a very similar situation. Star forward Trevor Mbakwe, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility for this upcoming season, was arrested over the summer on a DUI charge of his own. Punishment against the double-double machine, who missed nearly all of last season with a knee injury, was handled “internally” and numerous reports have emerged within the past week or so stating that Mbakwe will not miss any time this season.
Long story short and details aside, two member of the Gophers’ basketball program have been arrested for driving under the influence within the past six months, one of which is the team’s star performer and the other is an assistant and the son of head coach Tubby Smith.
When Smith returns to the team on Nov. 13, Minnesota will already be into their season and moving forward, their group will be together as if nothing happened.Although we can only hope that lessons were learned.
Athletic director Norwood Teague told the Associated Press in a statement, “Certainly we don’t always want to copy what other people do, but rarely have I seen a coach fired for something like this.” Smith returned to the payroll on Friday, less than one week after the crime.
This comes just days after Teague told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “We just can’t have behavior like that. It’s just not good for anyone, it’s embarrassing and I won’t tolerate it.”
Sure, Minnesota does not want to follow what other schools have done in the past, but by default they have. There was no precedent and that tolerance seemingly is being passed over. Although Mbakwe will be one of the more intriguing players to watch this season, let’s hope the two can put their legal troubles behind them and move forward. Simply because, it appears that Minnesota already has.
According to the university, Smith is not under contract at Minnesota, but instead on a salary totaling, $94,775. He is simply labeled as annually renewable employee.
Considering this is Smith’s first offense and given the conditions that he agreed upon, Teague decided to retain the Gophers’ assistant as an employee. It’s tough to argue Teague’s decision, but at the same time, it’s also easy to call the situation into question.
So, did Minnesota make the right choice? Maybe, but the Gophers cannot allow similar situations to continuously arise.
The Gophers will be in search of their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010 this upcoming season and expectations are exactly that in a top-heavy and loaded Big Ten Conference. With a number of key contributors returning, most notably the aforementioned Mbakwe, Minnesota will certainly be looking to dance come March.
Paul Seaver is the College Basketball Network Manager at Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter: @TheArenaPulse