In a move everyone expected, Tubby Smith and Memphis have parted ways.
After a meeting on Wednesday with Memphis president David Rudd and athletic director Tom Bowen, Smith told the Commercial Appeal that he is no longer the head coach of the Tiger basketball program.
The expectation is that Smith will be replaced by Penny Hardaway.
By now, this story line has just about been beaten to death. Tubby Smith coached just two seasons at Memphis. He won 21 games this past season and coached one of the league’s biggest surprises. But his nearly-$10 million buyout is worth paying because of the amount of revenue that the Memphis program is losing due to ticket sales, donations and revenue they generate by selling out the FedEx Forum, which is owned by the Grizzlies.
Penny is the guy that is going to replace him because he’s the most famous basketball from the city of Memphis and an alum of the school. He has all kinds of talent on the high school and AAU teams that he coaches in the city and would instantly rejuvenate a fanbase that has become alienated.
I say all that to say this: There is nothing about the job that Tubby Smith did this season that deserved firing. He coached up a team with nowhere near the talent we generally associate with Memphis. They won 21 games with a roster held together by paper clips and scotch tape, finishing fifth in a league where some thought they would only be better South Florida and East Carolina. The reason his roster was depleted? He didn’t want to put up with the nonsense that came with keeping Keelon Lawson as one of his three assistant coaches.
He didn’t want to play that game.
But in Memphis, at a certain point, you have to play that game.
Which is why Smith was probably the wrong hire to begin with.
And at some point, you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it to keep paying a coach you know is the wrong coach for your program, even if he’s doing his job well enough that he doesn’t deserve what’s about to come.
Smith is going to get his money and, if he wants it, another job coaching basketball somewhere. He’s too good at this to not get hired. And Memphis is probably going to end up with the guy they wanted from the beginning.
This was always going to be the reality here, and an amicable parting of ways is probably a better result than a long, drawn out divorce.