If you’re one of those jumpy Memphis fans who wants to get rid of Josh Pastner because he’s failed to live up to the Calipari mythos, I’d counsel patience. If you can’t appreciate the upward trend that’s right in front of your faces, nobody is ever going to make you happy. The Tigers have won more than 20 games in each of Pastner’s four seasons, and each season the number of wins has increased. This year, Memphis was 16-0 in league play and topped 30 wins.
And all that is nice. As power-conference fans will gleefully point out, it’s easier to make it to those milestones in C-USA, and they don’t matter if you can’t win in the NCAA Tournament. I’ll cede that point even though I don’t like the snide tone of the discourse.
So let’s look beyond the numbers and go to the eyeball test. If you watched Memphis lose to Michigan State in the Round of 32, you know what I’m talking about.
I lost count of how many times a blue-clad body hit the floor in pursuit of a loose ball. Memphis’ defense was sloppy, but persistent. D.J. Stephens rising above the rim to block shots will be a recurring theme in the One Shining Moment video. Dudes were jumping out of their shoes half the game.
The Tigers played hard and loose, and never gave up. They were a reflection of their coach, who got so involved in the defensive effort he performed impromptu calesthenics in the coach’s box. Did he look like a hyperactive goofball? Sure, but ask UCLA fans if they’d prefer an energetic goober or a phlegmatic spectator on the bench when the time comes to lay it all on the line.
My colleague Rob Dauster will tell you that Pastner is not a good fit in Memphis, where his clean-cut approach is out-of-sync with the city’s inherent toughness. He’s not wrong. Pastner also has a long way to go before anyone mentions his name and gravitas in the same sentence. Finally, the time has come when his obvious recruiting ability has to be coupled with tactical brilliance, and if Pastner can’t acquire that for himself, he needs to hire it. Think Steve Lavin and Gene Keady, though, you know, with more actual winning.
In the end, Pastner probably must leave Memphis to achieve his true potential. He may have reached his pinnacle at Memphis already. But as the annual rumors of big-time programs pursuing Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens – also straight-arrows – heat up, is it really that far off the mark to imagine that Josh Pastner might be the third guy on that list of phone calls?
Keep an eye on the coaching carousel, is all I can say.
To follow along with the 2013 Coaching Carousel, click here.
Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.