MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota assistant Saul Smith will keep his job and return to the team next month after a drunken-driving arrest that put him on unpaid leave for the last five days.
Athletic director Norwood Teague said Smith returned to the payroll Friday, but the son of coach Tubby Smith will remain on administrative leave until Nov. 13. That means he will miss two exhibition games and two regular-season games for the Gophers. Smith's salary is $94,775. According to the university, Smith doesn't have a contract. He's an annually renewable professional and administrative employee.
Teague said he didn't consider firing Smith. He said he felt the punishment was appropriate, considering this was Smith's first such offense and the 32-year-old agreed to several conditions in response to the fourth-degree driving while intoxicated charge he received last weekend.
"Certainly we don't always want to copy what other people do, but rarely have I seen a coach fired for something like this," Teague said.
The Gophers are in position for a potentially strong season, with almost their entire team returning and Trevor Mbakwe granted a sixth year of eligibility following his season-ending right knee injury last November. But before they've even played a game they've been in the news for the wrong reasons.
Prior to Smith's arrest, Mbakwe got a DWI. The arrest occurred in July but wasn't revealed until two weeks ago by the university. The drunken-driving charge triggered two more years of probation for him in Florida, where he faced a felony battery charge in 2009 but avoided by entering a pretrial intervention program. Tubby Smith said he considering kicking Mbakwe off the team but kept him when the standout power forward agreed to certain unspecified conditions and responsibilities.
Saul Smith was pulled over on a highway after leaving downtown when a state trooper saw his vehicle driving on the shoulder between 70 mph and 80 mph in a 55 mph zone. Smith's breath test registered a 0.18 blood-alcohol concentration, more than twice the state limit of 0.08.
Teague said Smith's behavior was embarrassing and intolerable for the university and a repeat could result in termination of his employment. Smith also agreed to participate in alcohol counseling and education and apologize to the team and share with the players what he's learned.
"We don't take this lightly," Teague said.
According to the university, his court date has been moved up to Nov. 9.