Tubby Smith: A Proven Leader 

It seems entirely appropriate that, at a time when we are confronted with the need to choose a national leader, we should have fresh examples of leadership in our midst.

Such was the case Tuesday on the occasion of the regular

Tuesday luncheon of the Rotary Club of Memphis, when the speaking guest was one Tubby Smith, the new coach of the University of Memphis basketball team, at a time when his Tigers are on the very threshold of their 2017-18 season.

Smith gave a virtual seminar on the art of inspiring a constituency and winning its confidence. His first rhetorical move was artfulness itself, when he said that he made it a habit to be "always moving up" in his career changes. This, to say the least, gave a boost to his audience of Memphians, who are thoroughly used to hearing poor-mouthing about the city's prospects from too many of their fellow townsfolk. The boost was all the higher, inasmuch as the speaker of those words was a celebrated, even legendary coach, a 1998 winner of the NCAA annual basketball tournament at the University of Kentucky who has taken five different teams to the NCAA tournament, and who, as recently as last year, while coaching Texas Tech, was voted college basketball Coach of the Year by the Sporting News.

click to enlarge Tubby Smith
  • Tubby Smith

As University of Memphis president David Rudd said in his introduction of the coach, Smith is a guaranteed future Hall of Famer.

After that good start, Smith went on to tell self-deprecating stories about his time as a high school football player. He explained that his position was "tailback," a fact which he illustrated by claiming that, every time he tried to head out onto the field, his coach would call out, "Smith, get your tail back!"

That's the kind of modesty, of course, which reinforces people's sense that the speaker is so self-confident that he need not boast of himself. Not to overstate the case, but compare that to a certain presidential candidate whose campaign seems to consist entirely of braggadocio.

While we're on that analogy, a further point of comparison: The candidate in question is notorious for winging it and not doing his homework on issues of the day. Tubby Smith made a case for planning and preparation as the necessary precursors of success and told the Rotarians how, from the time of his first coaching gig at Virginia Commonwealth University, he demanded of his players that they keep, maintain, and strictly observe a daily planner — both as athletes and in their daily lives, later on.

As Smith dilated further about his recruiting methods and his rituals, routines, and serious commitment to the Xs and Os of his craft, it became obvious that here was a man who not only knew what he was talking about, but had gone through a highly disciplined process to acquire that knowledge.

That, plus his becoming modesty, plus a record that speaks for itself were all things that make clear that Tubby Smith is a proven leader. Would that we could say the same thing about the politicians we have to choose from this election year.


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