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Tubby Smith’s Legend Lives on in West Texas

Tubby Smith’s Legend Lives on in West Texas

The legend of Tubby Smith is a Hall of Fame success of valuing who you are in the doing over what you get accomplished.

I first began to understand the legend of Tubby Smith when I was 22 years old, waiting for my to-go orders in Elmer’s ‘It Be Bad’ BBQ on Brookside in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We had just moved to Tulsa, and Elmer’s quickly became my usual joint. As I’d wait for ribs, I’d look at pictures and memorabilia on the ‘Tubby Wall.’

Smith had, in a massive rebuild, led the University of Tulsa to two Sweet 16’s. Though he’d been gone for some seven years, Smith’s legend still lived in Tulsa.

Susie at the to-go counter would fill the wait time and the images with stories, making sure her new young Texan regular understood ‘Tubby’ was an even greater person than he was a coach.

When we moved just south of Lexington, Kentucky in 2009, Smith had left the University of Kentucky two years prior. Kentucky is a different world, where businesses close when the Wildcats play, sky-high expectations that quickly conflagrate into resentment when a coach can’t win two national champions per year. Yet, in a little barbershop in Wilmore, for every picture and memory of Smith cutting down nets in 1998 or in Final Fours, there are a dozen grinning stories about the character he embodied in the Bluegrass. It seemed to me then, as it does now, that while Smith couldn’t meet Big Blue basketball expectations, he could easily be elected governor of the Commonwealth.

The legend of Tubby Smith is a Hall of Fame success of valuing who you are in the doing over what you get accomplished– and that legend’s alive and well today.

And now Tubby Smith is in a new landscape, a career journeying from the Ozarks to the Bluegrass and settling on the Texas Plains, doing and being the same as he’s always been and done. A great man making memories. Leaving more stories about his off-court character than his many on-court successes. And in so many ways, it’s fascinating for me to witness Elmer’s Tubby Wall and Bluegrass barbershop tales come to life in West Texas.

But even more, it’s important to me– as a hungry young man at Elmer’s then, to a driven 36-year-old now– to have living proof that the real secret to success isn’t what you accomplish, it’s who you are while you’re doing it. A public leader who quietly puts the “well” in “Well done, my good and faithful servant” within a High Plains culture where religious roots and work ethic run deep.

The legend of Tubby Smith is a Hall of Fame success of valuing who you are in the doing over what you get accomplished– and that legend’s alive and well today. To miss that lesson is to inadequately appreciate what Tubby is accomplishing at Texas Tech (and in Lubbock) right now.

Jay Leeson is co-host of West Texas Drive, weekdays from 4:30-6:30pm on KRFE AM 580 – Lubbock. Follow him on Twitter at @jayleeson.

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