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VOL. 43 | NO. 7 | Friday, February 15, 2019

NBA G League colleague: Turner a ‘spectacular hire’

By Tom Wood

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Tommy Smith, center, with Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin, left, and new Vanderbilt Athletics Director Malcolm Turner, was vice president of operations at the NBA G League when Turner was commissioner. Together, they oversaw the expansion of the league from 18 to 28 teams.

-- Photo By Michelle Morrow |The Ledger

Few people in Nashville know Vanderbilt athletics director Malcolm Turner as well as Donelson resident Tommy Smith.

That will quickly change, and both Vanderbilt and Nashville will be better for it, says Smith, who was Turner’s right-hand man as vice president of operations at the NBA G League.

“I think that Vanderbilt made a spectacular hire,” says Smith, who was an assistant basketball coach at Middle Tennessee State and a head coach at both Cumberland University and the minor league Music City Jammers.

“He’s a very educated man, but he’s highly smart and he’s got great temperament, and his decision-making ability is terrific in terms of process, timeliness and thoughtfulness

“And (Turner) is just a really, really good guy. I selfishly am just thrilled for Vanderbilt and Nashville for having Malcolm and his wife Jessica here in town. They’ll be a great addition.”

Smith calls Turner “one of my closest friends” and credits the rapid expansion of the NBA G League (from 18 to 28 teams) for their rapport. Smith adds Turner’s tireless work ethic is one of the finer assets Vanderbilt fans will quickly see.

“I can’t tell you how many airplanes he and I have been on, checked into hotels at God-knows-what hours, dealing with stressful situations, and he’s got the best temperament, and he’s just a very poised guy. And I’ve said it many times – if someone doesn’t get along with Malcolm, they got nobody to blame but themselves,” Smith adds.

“First off, he doesn’t make rash decisions, but he’s always a very quick learner. And he’ll know what he needs to do, and his timing on what he does is almost the exact time (it needs to be done). He’s not a guy – you run into some people who are verbal blowhards; he’s not that at all – he’s very thoughtful. Like I say, he does things in a very timely fashion, a very mature fashion, and he does it based on knowledge. He doesn’t do things based on an emotional reaction. And he’s a very quick learner.”

Like Smith, the local and national media and sports business leaders have had high praise for Vandy’s hiring of Turner.

Spencer Hall, who grew up in Franklin, covers college athletics as the editor of everydayshouldbesaturday.com and is a contributor to SBNation.com. He takes a little more cautious approach, but thinks it can work.

“Turner is an unconventional hire,” Hall says. “He’s not an old-boy college AD and has never actually been an AD, much less been a college athletics administrator.

“Texas tried this once with pro sports exec Steve Patterson, who had no experience at the college level and was an outsider to Austin. That didn’t go well.

“Vanderbilt is a different case, though, and so is Malcolm Turner, who is by all accounts is a competent and qualified executive. Turner has two challenges:

“One, getting Vanderbilt to spend money. No one expects Vandy to beat Florida and Georgia every year, but no one expects them to lag this far behind in facilities and infrastructure, either. If they want to compete consistently in the SEC, they’ll have to spend some of the football money that keeps everything else afloat.

“Two, making the job his own. He has big shoes to fill replacing David Williams II, but he has one big advantage already: His only job is being the full-time AD. That’s new for Vandy, who’s been pretty competitive across the board with one person basically part-timing the gig. A full-timer could get them somewhere even better – at least, in theory.”

Turner attended his first men’s basketball home game Feb. 9, a 77-67 loss vs. Alabama that dropped the Commodores to 0-10 in the SEC.

Several students and sidewalk fans were asked to assess the hire of Turner. Most knew very little about him, but liked what they’d heard.

Joe Baldwin, a sophomore from Kansas City, goes by Mic Man, part of the courtside spirit team that hypes up Vandy students.

“He seems like a really cool guy. I hear a lot of good things about him, and it seems like the organization is pretty excited, so we’re excited to see how this interesting new chapter plays out,” Baldwin says. “I think the organization, we’re looking for a lot of energy. It feels like he’s bringing a lot of good vibes with him, so I’m just hoping that rubs off on everybody.”

Vandy fan Jonathan Henson from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, credited Vandy for finding an AD with a national background.

“I’m excited because I feel like we needed an out-of-the-box hire. I don’t know a lot about him, but I’m excited and think it was worth the risk – try something different. Vanderbilt is not like any other SEC school, so I like that we’re trying something different,” Henson adds.

Wes Allen of Nashville says he spoke briefly with Turner at the Commodores’ 45-38 loss in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 27 in Houston.

“The fact that he doesn’t come from a college athletics background is interesting, but I can see the reasoning behind that with more promotion, more fundraising in more of the outgoing community,” Allen offers. “That’s supposed to be his forte, so we’ll see how that works.”

Richard Wright of Nashville has season tickets to both the Vandy men’s basketball games and the NHL’s Nashville Predators. As far as fan experience goes, there’s no comparison, he says.

“I’ve been a season ticket holder for 30 years (at Vandy), and it’s a different game these days – the competition has increased. Vanderbilt has just got to bring their level of game up. Not only on the court, but facilities, experience, everything that goes into it. (Back in the day) this was it. We would come here for the whole deal and now we’ve got too many options,” Wright acknowledges.

“I think he’s an interesting hire in that he’s coming from outside the sector, but that’s OK, you know. Sometimes you need a fresh look. When asked his view on some important things, he’s says he wants to listen, to understand what people are saying. I think that’s probably a smart thing to do. And so I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt.”

That sentiment was echoed by Emily and Patrick Holcombe.

“There are a lot of unknowns and we’re looking forward to seeing what it will produce, and ultimately, what it will bring to the school and the program,” Patrick says. “Vanderbilt’s got a great tradition, and I think athletics can take it a step further.”

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