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Jon Krawczynski / Associated Press, Published March 26 2013

Teague's task of finding new men's basketball coach begins

MINNEAPOLIS – When Norwood Teague took over as athletic director at Minnesota, he knew it would take a little time for him to get up to speed with all the intricacies of major college football.

Teague came from Virginia Commonwealth, which doesn’t have a football team, and so immersing himself in the sport was one of his top priorities. One thing Teague did know, and know well, was basketball. He and associate Mike Ellis have long prided themselves on being plugged in to the coaching world and familiar with what is needed to identify quality coaches and build a strong program.

So when Teague made the bold decision to fire basketball coach Tubby Smith, he did so knowing that his first big hire at Minnesota was right in his wheelhouse.

“I mean, it’s our job, or my job to conduct a search and I feel good about that,” Teague said when he announced Smith’s firing on Monday. “I feel like we’ve got a lot to sell.”

When he was at VCU, Teague got the program going when he hired Anthony Grant, who eventually left for Alabama. Teague filled that opening with Shaka Smart, who has become one of the hottest commodities on the coaching market after leading the small school to the Final Four. Teague also was an administrator at basketball power North Carolina, helping to expand his circle of connections within the sport.

The process ramped up at VCU, where Teague and Ellis used the school’s Villa 7 Consortium to expand their connections. The school started Villa 7 in 2004, bringing head coaches, assistant coaches and university administrators together for a glorified cocktail party that allowed connections to be made, resumes to be exchanged and mock interviews to be conducted.

Teague hired both Smart and Grant after meeting them at Villa 7 gatherings. Other Villa 7 alumni who could be considered for the Gophers job included Marquette’s Buzz Williams and Butler’s Brad Stevens, who would be considered an even longer shot than the highly coveted Smart.

“We are going to look for the right fit for the program,” Teague said. “Doesn’t have to be the candidate that everybody thinks we should get. It’s going to be the right fit for our student athletes.”

Former Timberwolves coach and Minnesota alum Flip Saunders is another possibility to replace Smith, a highly respected coach who helped lift the Golden Gophers out of the rubble created by an academic fraud scandal. Smith had the big name that can sell tickets and also ran a clean program, two necessities for Minnesota in the wake of the cheating that wiped the Final Four appearance in 1997 from the record books. And even though progress under Smith had clearly hit a wall in the previous two seasons and many of the team’s players were failing to show the improvement expected as their careers carried on, firing him still proved to be a highly scrutinized decision.

Teague was criticized nationally for the decision, with several high-profile analysts and coaches essentially asking how dare a program such as Minnesota fire a coach with such an esteemed reputation. Those pundits and colleagues ignored Smith’s 46-62 record in Big Ten play and the coaching staff’s inability to make in-game adjustments.