The 34-year-old coach has Virginia Commonwealth back in the NCAA tournament after leading the Rams to the Final Four last year.
DAN PATRICK:What's the difference between your expectations at VCU and those of someone like John Calipari or Mike Krzyzewski?
SHAKA SMART: Those guys probably expect to win every game. [And] by the middle of January they know they're in the NCAA tournament. For us there's a smaller margin for error. Every second of every game is so critical because if you slip up, it can cost you dearly.
DP:Who has more pressure, the powerhouse programs or the mid-majors?
SS: There's more pressure on us in January and February. Once you get into March and the tournament begins, the pressure really shifts off teams like ours and is put on the favorites. That's why our team was able to play so loose last year. Nobody expected us to do anything.
DP:How have expectations changed after you made last year's Final Four?
SS: I don't think we're going to sneak up on anyone. People have more of an awareness, and more of them might pick us. We'll be the underdog if you go by the seeds, [but] that really doesn't matter once the ball goes up. Our guys have done a really good job of being in the moment.
DP:You must have had interest from other schools after last year's tournament. Why did you stay at VCU?
SS: Because I love it here. My wife loves it here. We have players we really enjoy being around. Somebody said once that you shouldn't run away from happiness. That's some advice I took.
DP:Aren't you afraid you may not get calls in the future and have to act now?
SS: Not at all.
DP:But it must have been tough given the money that's out there.
SS: If the motivation was financial, I certainly would have left. If you ask any coach around the country why they got into coaching, I think very few of them would say it was for the money. If I ever got to the point where I was scared [opportunities] might not be there in the future, then I probably shouldn't be doing this because you never want to make a decision out of fear.
DP:You must have heard the rumors about you and the Illinois vacancy. How long is your contract?
SS: Eight years.
DP:Eight years with an out?
SS: That's the nature of contracts in sports. But I love it here. I'm locked into our team.
DP:How does your current team compare with last season's squad?
SS: Better on defense. Not quite as explosive on offense—but we're getting there.
DP:It sounds like your voice is in postseason form. Been yelling a lot?
SS: We're always yelling and screaming over here.
DP:Ever have a kid come over and say, Coach, c'mon, stop yelling?
SS: No, it comes with the territory. But I don't think I yell as much as certain other coaches out there.
DP:Do you ever watch yourself on TV to see how you present yourself?
SS: I try to be very positive on the floor. Invariably, when I watch tape, I wish I would have been even more positive. That's something I have to work on.
"I don't like all these fines. It's obvious when there's something egregious. In cases like that, you suspend a player. These fines each week look like a police blotter, and [they make] fans really believe things like this bounty system."
—John Lynch, former NFL safety, on the league's disciplinary system
Tony Dungy spoke with Colts owner Jim Irsay before he released Peyton Manning and believes the prospect of drafting Andrew Luck was the key factor in the decision. "Peyton would definitely be there if they didn't have the Number 1 pick," Dungy said.... Speaking of Manning, former Steelers coach Bill Cowher shared his strategy for trying to defend against the future Hall of Famer: "You can't show him anything until there's less than 10 seconds left on the play clock. At that point we figured it was too late [for him] to change the play." ... The Suns' Grant Hill, 39, said his mid-career injuries actually have extended his days on the NBA court. "If I had played those years, I would have [lost the desire]," Hill told me. "I still have that itch, and I'm still running around after guys half my age." ... I asked 49-year-old Rockies pitcher Jamie Moyer the last time he hit a batter intentionally. "Maybe in the minor leagues," Moyer said. "With my velocity, they would pick it up and say, 'Hey, you dropped something.'"
MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II/1DEUCE3 PHOTOGRAPHY
PETER CASEY/US PRESSWIRE (SMART)
CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES (MOYER)
PETER READ MILLER (HILL)
SCOTT HALLERAN/GETTY IMAGES (DUNGY)