Shaka Smart has been a hot name for head coaching vacancies ever since he took Virginia Commonwealth University to the Final Four in 2011. Athletic Director Ron Wellman's first phone call should be to Mr. Smart. In fact, so should calls two through ten due to how perfect of a hire Shaka Smart would be for Wake Forest University. According to ACC Sports, he is our top choice.
Shaka Smart is an academically-minded individual who graduated magna cum laude from Kenyon College, which is the 32nd best liberal arts college in the country according to U.S. News & World Report. His wife, Maya Payne, is a professional writer who holds degrees from Harvard University and Northwestern University.
No one in the coaching profession becomes a "celebrity overnight," but his rise in the coaching profession has been very swift. After graduating from Kenyon in 1999, Smart spent two season as an assistant with California University of Pennsylvania, which competes at the Division II level. From there, he went on to Dayton, one of the best mid-major programs in the country, where he spent two years as the director of basketball operations. In 2003 he earned his first job as an assistant at the Division I level when he agreed to become an assistant at the University of Akron. He spent two seasons in Akron before earning a job as an assistant at Clemson University, which we all know is part of the ACC. Following two seasons at Clemson he landed a job as an assistant with the University of Florida, where he learned under the tutelage of two-time national champion Billy Donovan.
In the spring of 2009, Shaka Smart agreed to become the head coach of Virginia Commonwealth University and has taken a proud program to even greater heights. If I'm trying to convince you that Shaka is a great candidate, I could probably just stop after "Smart took VCU to the Final Four in 2011." But there''s far more to Shaka's VCU tenure than just that magical run in March. In his first season at VCU, his Rams lost the Coloanial Athletic Association championship game in overtime, but they went on to win the C.B.I. and finish the season 27-9. During his second season, they again lost to Old Dominion in overtime of the CAA championship game, but they still made the NCAA Tournament and went on a magical run by beating the likes of Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State, and Kansas en route to the Final Four.
During Shaka's third season at VCU proved the Final Four run wasn't a fluke as they won 29 games including the CAA Tournament and defeated Wichita State in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament. In his fourth season, VCU changed to the Atlantic 10 Conference and finished second in the league behind Saint Louis. VCU defeated Akron in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament before losing to Michigan, who was the National Runner-Up.
This season, VCU has gone 26-8 (12-4), including a loss to Saint Joseph's in the A-10 Conference Championship. Their patented "Havoc" defense has led the highest forced turnover rate in the country each of the past 3 seasons. This year they forced turnovers on more than 25% of possessions. This defense helped them defeat current number 1 seed Virginia on the road. They entered the NCAA Tournament as a 5 seed and will face SF Austin. The winner will play the winner of the UCLA/Tulsa matchup.
Smart's biggest strength may be his ability to recruit and build the talent level of a program. In his three recruiting classes following the Final Four run, Smart has signed six 4-star recruits to play at VCU. Landing elite talent is essentially to competing in a conference such as the ACC, and Shaka has the recruiting chops to get blue chip prospects to Wake Forest.
It cannot be overstated how critical this hire is for Wake Forest's basketball program. The program is at a crossroads and the next hire will dictate if Wake Forest is going to be a shark or a minnow in the new ACC. The program can survive the past four years, but we cannot afford a decade of irrelevance. I guarantee that Shaka Smart will not fail at Wake Forest. He's too good of a coach and recruiter at too good of a program to fail. In college athletics you can nearly eliminate risk by paying for the right hire. Ron Wellman, please eliminate that risk and bring in Shaka Smart to bring us back to prominence. The fan base will be in pure jubilation and The Joel will be rocking again.