Every year across the country, coaches are changing jobs for what many would consider a “better” situation. The majority of the time, when a coach is at a mid-major, they take the — first — job offered to them from a Power Five university, sometimes even at what they perceive is higher conference, even if it’s not Power Five.
On the flip side, what happens when a coach in a similar position, decides to shake up the usual narrative, by declining a job and continuing what they have established at the mid-major they are already at? Well, it’s never happened until now.
A couple of days ago, Karl Smesko did just that by turning down the USC job. Instead, he decided he would be staying at FGCU, the school he has been building for the last 15 years.
As columnist David Moulton stated in his recent column for the News-Press, “he (Smesko) is the heart, soul and founding father of the program.”
Smesko’s decision wasn’t just a victory for the Eagles, however, it’s one for the game of basketball, even more so mid-majors. Telling a Power Five, “no,” to stay at an up-and-coming mid-major program, was actually brilliant, genius and innovative.
On the men’s side, see Gonzaga’s Mark Few, Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, Creighton’s Greg McDermott and Xavier’s Chris Mack.
Moulton indicates the potential is there for FGCU under the leadership of Smesko:
“Maybe Smesko's decision last Friday was just a one-year reprieve from the inevitable. But maybe, just maybe, it is the day we look back on and say was the tipping point of when a really good, solid program, became great.”
As he pointed out in his column, FGCU has been Division I since 2012, and since then, Smesko’s teams have continued to make noise on the national stage.
“Since 2012, the FGCU women have had two 30-win seasons, made four NCAA Tournaments and finished a season ranked in the Top 25. It has signed three Top 100 players, two out of high school, one as a transfer.”
Also, two years ago, the Eagles finished as WNIT runner-ups.
Moulton feels as the program continues to rise, the local talent in the area will see FGCU as a viable option, and want to stay home.
“The 239 area code has just produced two standouts. Junior Destanni Henderson, of Fort Myers High, is committed to play for the defending national champions at South Carolina, and Dunbar senior Dekeriya Patterson is headed to LSU. On top of that, Southwest Florida is home to elite youth/high school coaching with significant AAU connections. What type of program would FGCU become if one of those two, or one of the standouts in the next great 239 class, signs with the Eagles? They'd go from being a cute, undersized, little engine that could' type of program, to becoming a force in the sport. Is it really unrealistic that one day soon, one of these kids decides to stay home? The longer he stays, the more likely it becomes.”
Ironically, this is not as far-fetched as it might have been a decade ago, as a matter of fact, it’s palpable and very realistic. Once again, on the men’s side, where recruiting is much harder than on the women’s side, Creighton signed five-star recruit Justin Patton, guess where Patton is from?
Patton is now projected to be a first-round pick in this year’s NBA Draft.
What’s that one axiom? “There’s no place like home.”