It had been a whirlwind day for G.G. Smith, the new men’s basketball coach at Loyola, when a phone call interrupted his introductory news conference Friday afternoon.
That morning, the Loyola assistant had a final interview with the school’s search committee. Around lunchtime, he was summoned to the home of Loyola president, Rev. Brian F. Linnane, who informed Smith that the job was his. The 36-year-old then made emotional phone calls to his wife and mother.
But during his news conference at Reitz Arena, he was still waiting for his father to return his call.
A minute after he joked that his father, Tubby Smith, who coached Kentucky to a national championship in 1998, would probably be the last person to get in touch with him, G.G.’s wife, Lorie, rushed to the stage and handed him a cell phone. Tubby Smith was watching the news conference on his computer.
“Hey Dad, what’s up? I got the job at Loyola,” G.G., grinning wide, said into the phone, which got laughs and a loud round of applause from the crowd. “I’ll call you later.”
Smith, who was an assistant under former Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos for six years, is the 20th head coach in Loyola history. He inherits a program that played in a postseason tournament in each of the past two seasons, including a trip to the NCAA tournament a year ago, and has won 62 games over the last three seasons.
“I believe I can help lead these guys to a better place,” Smith said. “It’s already a great place, but we want to reach new heights. We want to get back to the tournament and reach the postseason.”
But even before the departure of the bombastic Patsos, who was introduced as the head coach at Siena last Wednesday, the program was one in transition.
Loyola is leaving the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference for the Patriot League next fall. The Patriot League’s stringent academic standards will make recruiting tougher for Smith, who says the Greyhounds may have to expand their search for talent beyond Baltimore and the Northeast.
But he said “there’s no reason we can’t join this league with a splash and make a name for ourselves.”
Respected by Loyola players for his knowledge of the game and his soft voice and calm demeanor, Smith vows that his Greyhounds will work hard, have fun and play an “exciting brand” of basketball.
“We’re going to do some things different. We’re going to do some things the same as when Jimmy was there,” Smith said. “We’re going to get up and down [the court]. We’re going to press. We want to make this an event. We want to be the premier [mid-major] college basketball team in this area. That’s my vision.”
Smith was a three-year starting guard at Georgia, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1999. He later received his master’s degree from of Kentucky, where he was a graduate assistant coach for his father from 2000 to 2002. He then spent a season at Tennessee Tech, two at Armstrong Atlantic State and one at Johns Hopkins before joining Patsos’ staff at Loyola in 2007.
“If you ever watched a Loyola basketball game, during a timeout a lot of times Coach Patsos might be having a very pleasant conversation with the officials,” Loyola assistant vice president and director of athletics Jim Paquette said. “But if you looked over in the huddle, it was this guy who was drawing up the play.”
With Smith assisting Patsos, the Greyhounds won the MAAC tournament in 2012 to make it to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1994. The Greyhounds had another 20-plus-win season this past season and were invited to the CollegeInsider.com postseason tournament.
"I obviously feel great for G.G. I'm just excited," Patsos said. "He's part of the family and he's done a tremendous job. From the minute he walked in there, he made me a better coach. I'm so happy for Father Linnane, for Jim Paquette because they've got a quality person who is going to keep the program on the right track."
Loyola hired Smith after a thorough nationwide search aided by Parker Executive Search.
When officials learned there was a chance that Patsos could leave for Siena, they began doing background work on candidates. At the Final Four in Atlanta, the search committee met with a “dozen or so” candidates, according to Paquette, who said they brought a “handful” of candidates to Baltimore for interviews. Smith was the last candidate to interview.
According to a source with knowledge of the search, Villanova assistant Raphael Chillious was also a finalist.
“The interest was off the charts,” Paquette said. “You name a Division I basketball coach and we’ve got their cell phone numbers. But … we realized the right person was right in our backyard.”
This is Smith’s first head coaching job.
Smith was born in Leonardtown, but was often on the move as his father climbed the coaching ranks. Tubby Smith has won 511 games and one national championship during his NCAA coaching career.
“It is a great feeling, and I am really proud of G.G., not only as his mentor and father, but also as his former college coach, watching him grow and mature into the person he is today,” Tubby Smith, now the head coach at Texas Tech, said in a statement.
With a coaching staff to assemble and incoming recruits to secure, G.G. Smith is excited to get work. He lists his father and Patsos as his two biggest mentors, but he made it clear that he is eager to emerge from their sizable shadows and make a name for himself.
“I want to have my own identity,” he said. “I can’t help it my dad is Tubby and I worked for Jimmy the past six years. There are always going to be comparisons, and those are comparisons that I like. At the same time, I want to do things my way.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Barker contributed to this article.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun