Memphis brought Tubby Smith in to replace an ineffective Josh Pastner, hoping the veteran head coach could turn the Tigers around like he did Texas Tech in 2016. Instead, the program’s postseason drought spread to four years, and now Smith has to find a new job.
Memphis is expected to part ways with well-traveled coach Tuesday. Smith will meet with university president M. David Rudd at 4 p.m. central time to discuss his future with the program.
Smith won 40 games in his two seasons in western Tennessee, but failed to crack the top 25 or even convince the NIT the Tigers were a worthy invitee. His teams barely broke the .500 barrier in a top-heavy American Athletic Conference, and a promising 17-6 start in 2016-17 crashed down to earth with a 2-7 finish that put pressure on Smith’s follow-up season.
While this year’s team managed to advance to the AAC semifinals thanks to some buzzer-beating wizardry, its 1-4 record against ranked teams and lack of postseason consideration didn’t show the kind of improvement for which Memphis administrators were looking. That, combined with 48-year attendance lows, was apparently all Memphis needed to see.
What can Memphis offer its incoming head coach (Penny Hardaway, cough cough)?
Ousting Smith may be the first step in bringing a local legend back to campus. CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish reported last week that the university was interested in hiring former Tiger and NBA All-Star Penny Hardaway to take over the hoops program. He’s even considering adding NBA Hall of Famer Larry Brown as an assistant coach.
Hardaway would take over a team built for success in 2018-19, assuming players don’t transfer away from the school after Smith’s departure. The Tigers’ will lose just one player to graduation, 6’8 forward Jimario Rivers, who started 24 games last season but averaged just 6.8 points. The team’s top four scorers, including dynamic duo Jeremiah Martin and Kyvon Davenport (32.3 ppg combined) are all set to return next fall.
Giving Hardaway, a first time college coach, a head start with a veteran team sets him up for success. And that’s the kind of splashy plan that can give a program an itchy trigger finger, and it may explain why Smith only got two seasons to redeem the Tigers after needing three to push Texas Tech back to the NCAA Tournament. Either way, it’s clear Memphis needs to take some drastic measures if it ever wants to approach the dizzying highs of the John Calipari era. Firing Smith to hire Hardaway would certainly qualify.