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Editorial: U’s firing of coach was timely and needed

The inevitable happened Monday as the University of Minnesota released men’s basketball head coach Tubby Smith and his staff. Frankly, the decision was the worst-kept secret in Minnesota Monday morning, but that is another story.

Smith arrived six years ago from Kentucky with a high-profile coaching pedigree, a winning record and one NCAA championship. Unfortunately, he was unable to deliver a similar results during his Gopher tenure.

In the end, a number of facts led to Smith’s release:

* While his teams averaged more than 20 victories a season, the Gophers never finished above .500 in Big Ten conference play.

* His teams have tended to start out fast, but collapse during February. During the past three years, the Gophers entered February with a combined record of 48-16, but had a February combined record of 5-17.

* Apathy had begun to set in among Gopher basketball fans. Over the past two years, the average game attendance had dropped more than 2,000 a game and was trending lower. That is a big revenue drop.

Smith is a solid coach, who ran a good program without any of the past scandals that have haunted Gopher basketball. Unfortunately, he was unable to achieve success in the Big Ten and his teams were not exciting the fan base.

Gopher players, recruits and fans had become skeptical of Smith’s ability to take the program to the next level.

Despite a $2.5 million buyout, Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague had to make this  decision. With the men’s basketball program looking stale and quickly losing fan interest, Teague’s decision that the program needed a “fresh approach” was correct and timely.

Now the university must find the next coach, who can bring a new perspective to the program, keep players on the team, recruit the next generation and create some fan excitement.

The success of Gopher basketball is important to the university and Minnesota.

They do not call it March Madness for nothing.