LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Several members of the University of Kentucky's Board of Trustees expressed reluctance Tuesday to wade into any decision about the future of head basketball coach Tubby Smith.
Board chairman James Hardymon said the matter should be left to Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and the school's athletics board. He said the trustees, however, are generally opposed to big contract buyouts - and Smith could be owed around $4 million if his employment were terminated.
"The board is a big fan of honoring contracts," Hardymon said. "With our organization of 12,000 employees, the board would be crazy to get involved in any one thing like that."
Smith is in his 10th season coaching the Wildcats. While the team's 20-10 record almost certainly will fetch an NCAA tournament berth, college basketball's winningest all-time team has failed to make the Final Four since its national championship run in 1998, Smith's first season.
Last week, Barnhart heightened speculation about Smith's future with a statement acknowledging fans' disappointment but urging them against making any evaluations until after the postseason tournaments. University President Lee Todd said in an interview he thought the statement was appropriate.
"I don't like to predict the future," Todd said. "I'm going to let Mitch - he is the professional in this area, working with Tubby - come up with a recommendation for me at the end of the season. We do it every year. We always evaluate every year. I think the fans just need to hang in there with us."
The Board of Trustees met Tuesday, but didn't discuss Smith. Of the six trustees interviewed by The Associated Press after the meeting, only Billy Wilcoxson predicted the trustees would get involved in a decision about Smith.
"I'm sure we will," Wilcoxson said, but didn't elaborate.
Trustee Russ Williams declined to say whether he backed Smith but insisted it not be a matter for the board.
"I assure you I wouldn't have a thing to say about that," Williams said. "That's an athletics department issue that would not require board action."
Smith's strongest support came from trustees Erwin Roberts and Jonah Brown, a student on the board. Both said the trustees shouldn't get involved but that they personally believe Smith should stay.
"Coach Smith has proved himself beyond measure," Brown said. "There's no reason for the board to have any involvement. Teams have good and bad seasons. This team has still had a pretty good season. It wouldn't be anything I would support."
Another trustee, Jeffrey Dembo, said he hasn't sensed any push
by the board to weigh in.
"I don't think it rises to the extent of board involvement," Dembo said. "It involves management decisions, not policy decisions."
Kentucky faces Alabama Thursday in the first round of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)