It was a mess. There is no other good way to put it. Almost seven years ago to the day, Marquette fans were suddenly and momentarily convinced that the hottest guy in men’s collegiate basketball coaching circles was about to be their guy. Their reason? A tweet — what else? — from a local media member, now long since deleted, which following a flurry of overheated activity and “sources say” pronouncements in the height of another chaotic annual college hoops coaching carousel dismissed a range of conflicting media reports and deemed Smart’s hiring at Marquette a “done deal.”
Marquette fans were thrilled. The retweets flew in. Smart was the king (or co-king) of the coaching carousel for years, perhaps the only non-Brad Stevens member of the college game who could pick basically any vacant Power 6 job he wanted. Then the trail went quiet. Then, not long after, reports that the deal was still in the making tricklec out, hedged and backtracking (or simply asserting, with better reporting, that it wasn’t happening in the first place). Then, news that VCU’s athletic director was still calling Smart VCU’s coach hit the central time zone and made plain the stark reality. This wasn’t happening.
Then Marquette fans got sad.
It’s not just that Smart had turned down yet another open college coaching job. Yes, Smart was a Madison, Wis., native whose ties to the area made Marquette fans especially hopeful he would come back, but even Marquette fans were reasonable enough to understand that Smart had become every fan’s ideal hire, the panacea for every open position in the sport. Smart did a lot of turning people down for a few years there. No, the hurt ran deeper. It felt close. It felt like something was happening, like Smart had taken a good long look, had gotten close enough to saying yes that he realized it wasn’t for him, and then it was made painfully obvious to the entire sport which party in the process had rejected whom. At best, it made the university’s search more difficult, and more likely to disappoint. At worst, it revealed something scary to Marquette’s own fans. Throw in the fact that Marquette was replacing Buzz Williams — a successful coach who left for Virginia Tech, which exactly zero Marquette fans considered a step up then or now — and the sudden status anxiety, the feeling of downward mobility, was terrifying. Wait: Maybe Marquette isn’t as attractive as we thought? Maybe we’re … not desirable? The “done deal” tweet lives in infamy.
Seven years later, on Monday afternoon, Smart was formally introduced as the 18th head men’s basketball coach at a ceremony at Marquette University. Seven years later, Smart spent the majority of his afternoon reciting the general sales pitch Marquette fans thought they were going to hear almost a decade ago: why he was thrilled to be there, what excited him about Marquette, how his program was going to run.