Minnesota basketball coach Tubby Smith was sitting in his office, when he received a text message from his secretary. The message simply read, “Turn on the TV.”
Smith talked exclusively with WKYT’s Sam Dick and said he was shocked at what he saw on his television. Just moments earlier, the eight-lane Interstate 35W bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River. At least four people are dead and eight people are still missing, presumed dead.
“We had just finished up basketball camp and I was sending day campers home,” Smith said, when he got the message from his secretary. Smith said 35W is a main thoroughfare in Minneapolis and his office is just a block away.
“I’ve used it a number of times, getting off the University Avenue exit,” Smith said.
Smith said he, assistant Ron Jirsa and Minnesota football coach Tim Brewster tried to get to the scene to offer help.
“That was about 20 minutes after the bridge collapsed,” Smith said. “There was nothing we could do. Authorities felt like, ‘Coach, it’s best you just get everybody back and let them do their job.’”
“It’s a war zone-type scene,” is how Smith described the twisted wreckage. “People are in shock, because they’re trying to help and there’s just nothing you can do. Thank God there wasn’t more people and cars on that bridge.”
Smith had just said goodbye to Detroit Piston coach Flip Saunders, who was speaking at Smith’s basketball camp. Saunders couldn’t get onto 35W because of construction, so the coach took an alternate route.
“He’d just left camp with his daughter,” Smith said of Saunders. “He said, ‘Coach, I’m going to go down here and put an air conditioner in my daughter’s apartment. I’ll be back later on.”
Smith said Saunders saw the bridge collapse. Saunders then used his cell phone to call 911.
The Gopher coach said he was relieved when all of the kids showed up for basketball camp this morning.