All signs point towards Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith becoming the next head coach at Memphis.
Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com, a former Memphis beat-writer that hosts a radio show in the city, is reporting that it is just about a done deal and that an announcement could come in the next 24 hours. Bleacher Report is more or less reporting the same thing. Every source I’ve talked to has said as much, that it seems like Tubby will be coaching on Beale Street next season.
This is not a hire that would invigorate the Memphis fanbase or win the press conference, not when the names that were being tossed around by fans and reporters alike — Gregg Marshall, Bruce Pearl, Buzz Williams — were one part unlikely, one part unattainable and two parts the result of a fan base that still believes the Memphis job is as good as it looked under John Calipari.
Don’t get me wrong.
It is a really good job.
They’ve got facilities, they’ve got fan support, they’ve got money to spend on the program, it’s the best job in the AAC, there’s as much talent in Memphis as there is in just about in city in America. All of that is attractive to coaches. But when Coach Cal had them rolling, Memphis was annually finding themselves in or around the top ten, when in reality, this is a job that likely ranks somewhere in the back-end of the top 25.
That’s a long-winded way of saying that it’s a good job that’s not quite good enough to lure one of the guys that would unequivocally be considered a homerun hire.
Enter Tubby Smith, who I actually believe will end up being a really good hire for the Tigers.
Tubby has somehow developed a negative reputation among basketball fans, which I don’t really understand. Because he can coach. All you need to do is look at his résumé: He led Tulsa to back-to-back Sweet 16s. He spent two seasons at Georgia, becoming the first coach to win 20 games in back-to-back seasons there. He followed that up by winning the national title in 1998 in his first season at Kentucky, and while he never again reached the Final Four in his ten years with the Wildcats, he was run out of town despite never missing an NCAA tournament, reaching three more Elite 8s and winning five regular season titles.
His issue at Kentucky? He wasn’t a great recruiter and he didn’t buy into the whole “ambassador for BBN” role that Coach Cal plays so well. Somehow, that turned into a reputation for being unable to coach, which was exacerbated when Minnesota forced him out after he led the Gophers to three NCAA tournaments in six seasons at a school that had reached the Big Dance just five times in the previous 16 seasons; only one of those five trips came without the help of Clem Haskins’ violating every conceivable NCAA rule.
So Tubby headed on down to Lubbock, where he turned a moribund program around in year three, getting them to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007.
That’s pretty damn good.
It’s also a long-winded way of saying Tubby’s reputation is unfair. If there is an issue here, it will be getting players, but that’s a question mark that can be answered pretty easily if he keeps Keelon Lawson on staff and hires Penny Hardaway as an assistant coach. Lawson is the father of Dedric and K.J. Lawson, as well as two more talented youngsters that have yet to matriculate into the collegiate ranks. Penny? He’s a hometown hero that runs the best AAU program — called ‘Team Penny’ — in the city.
So think about it like this, Memphis fans: Assuming this happens, you would be getting a head coach that has won a national title, that has won five SEC regular season titles and that has been to the NCAA tournament 18 times in the last 23 seasons — including four times with Minnesota and Texas freakin’ Tech — and you’re going to be upset about that? Even if he hires a staff that will let him keep Memphis players at home at the same rate that Josh Pastner did?
I love it, and while I think calling it a “homerun hire” would be too aggressive, given the circumstances, I think this would be an example of the Memphis athletic department actually making a savvy move.
Who saw that coming?