Basketball: Queen's makes Rob Smart a fall guy for years of inaction

Rob Smart — and everyone else — deserved a rationale.

The timing of Smart exiting stage left as Queen's men's basketball coach, because he could not lap the field in the OUA East while having less resources than his competitors, is not the issue. "Less than thrilled" lead assistant coach Duncan Cowan will be the interim skipper.

The issue is Queen's athletic department will get away with being vague about the decision and not offering anything prescriptive. No one can know for sure unless Leslie Dal Cin is put on the spot. She should specify whether Smart is out more for performance-based reasons or financially-based reasons. Otherwise, it is a same old-same old.

It reeks of a reprise of GoldenGate 2008, a department making a decision just to make a decision. It knows general apathy rules the day with alumni, students, fans, the media. People are conditioned to expect little in the way of CIS success for Tricolour teams beyond a football championship in each generation. Everything else can be met with some dispassionate Anglo-Saxon shrug. The basketball coach is out? We're the Queen's Gaels now even though 99.9 per cent of our football alumni are against it? Enh. You still going to Alfie's tonight?

Instead of reasoning, to paraphrase Chuck Swirsky, it's options, baby, options.
"I can tell you Rob and I have been talking for a long time," Dal Cin said. "We've been talking about the future of the program and talking about our options ... and as a result of that discussion came a parting of the ways.

"I think we had spent a lot of time talking and I think we both have viewpoints that are very strong. I think at the end of the day it comes down to how we need to move forward. We have a coaching model that is very different from other programs."

Smart also wasn't interested in diving into specifics.

"I kind of wanted to establish a plan and go ahead," he said.

Apparently, that plan, whatever it was, never will see the light of day.
— Mike Koreen, Kingston Whig-Standard
The reality they can get away with generalities is one point. The other is that for Queen's, this is like fouling out of a game when a player's fifth personal was perhaps necessary but the first couple were committed out of laziness.

Queen's, like this alumnus with his student loans, has debts accrued in the 1990s, when it did not try to land the other coach Smart. That makes it bitterly ironic.

Back in the day, Queen's failed to be brave and bold by bringing in Rob's brother, Dave Smart, in as a coach. Never mind that he starred at his hometown university.

(This is not revisionism. In 1998-99, when Paul Armstrong was still coach at Carleton, I recall standing in The Queen's Journal newsroom. One of the sports editors called Smart, "The Mike Keenan of the CIAU" and was told, "Dave Smart will win a national championship within five years." I was wrong: the Ravens had won two by the end of Smart's fifth season.)

Later, it did not respond by upgrading its program when it was clear Carleton was the lead dog in the OUA East pack. Current Windsor coach Chris Oliver, who is going to raise a CIS basketball banner one of these days, came and went in the mid-aughties. I wasn't around, but it does read now like that was just stepping-stone for him.

Making it about performance requires being very hard-line. Rob Smart's teams played .455 ball (50-60 in the OUA) across five seasons. Some would say five years is enough for a proof it was not working. Ironically, Queen's is .500 in that span if you do not count games against Carleton.

Queen's typically does not remove coaches simply because they did not win. Please also keep in mind the record would have been better if they had not had the misfortune of star scorer Mitch Leger twice having his season interrupted (by illness in 2006-07 and a knee injury in '08-09).

That said, there was still a missed opportunity over the past three seasons, while Carleton hosted the Final 8. Queen's had perhaps its best player, Leger, of the past two decades, plus the prospect of a second OUA East team going to nationals since the Ravens had a host berth. It never got close. Ottawa also failed to cash in on having the tournament close to home (a one-and-done appearance in 2009 in between losses in the play-in game) and now it has a new coach.

Perhaps that is a reflection on how taxing it is to compete against Carleton. I also believe it speaks to who, exactly, missed the opportunity.

It was probably not Smart and Cowan. They might have got almost all they could from the program.

The historical record — Queen's last OUA men's basketball title was in 1957 — tells a tale. The support for the two most popular CIS men's team sports played in the winter, basketball and hockey, has always been wafer-thin. No one has ever explained why.

Neither has a full-time coach, which is behind the times in the OUA. Hockey coach Brett Gibson works himself to the bone keeping the puck Gaels competitive. Meantime, they are not even a primary tenant in their off-campus home arena. (Check the schedule: Queen's has a late-season homestand where it will play at RMC's arena since Kingston Memorial Centre is booked.)

The frustration is more with history repeating itself, not at the people working in the department. Every person there has treated me great through the years.

No one wants to take a cynic's way out. It sucks to wonder if Queen's sometimes has the teams its deserves because it has the athletic department it deserves, one that only tries to maintain the facade.

Many Queen's grads feel like the university puts keeping up appearances ahead of the overall experience. Big, impressive buildings are a be-all. Having a Cadillac Escalade facility like the Queen's Centre (impressive, massive, indulgent) as the home of some modestly successful teams reflects that attitude. Meantime, their most successful program dispatched Western and Laval while playing in a creaky stadium.

Those are questions that should be addressed. Queen's has potential to be decent in basketball. Carleton built up from very little, why can't Queen's? (Come to think of it, Carleton has an arena on campus too.) Pushing away a universally respected member of the biggest basketball family in Eastern Ontario is bad policy.

From the looks of it, Thursday's decision reads like Rob Smart was expected to catch up after starting the race two steps behind. A basketball mind such as him deserves better, that's all.
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  1. Queen's has the potential to be decent in basketball?
    Maybe, but there is nothing about this present administration that suggests to me that potential will ever be realized.
    Quite honestly, the sporting culture at Queen's reminds me of the old Keith Harris era at Carleton, when it seemed virtually nothing of any consequence was accomplished.
    Things changed quickly at Carleton when Drew Love was hired as AD.
    Love realized the old status quo had to change if Carleton was ever going yo be come a school that would be respected in the athletic community.
    He took many bold steps in attempting to turn the athletic dept around, the most dramatic was gassing the football program and hiring a young basketball coach who was not exactly welcomed with open arms in
    some circles.
    Love had a plan, a vision of how he wanted things to be.
    But most importantly, he had the fortitude to insist on getting things done, even if his decisions were hugely unpopular to some.
    As a result, the landscape at Carleton changed drastically in the 15 or so years he was he had hoped...and his influence will still be felt at CU long after he left there.
    This is what Queen's AD with a master plan for real change and has the stones to see it through.

  2. Get out and recruit harder. Leger fell in their laps, not so with Klassen and Faulkner. Spare me the entrance difficulties, the football team gets it done somehow. Smart was a an excellent tactical coach, a whiny person and a horrible recruiter.
    Oliver was one that got away over $?