Breaking Down the FBI Scandal

This morning I’ll be appearing on TalkBalkLive with Bob and Josh – AM 730. We’ll be discussing the scandal that rocked college hoops last week.

I went ahead and read the actual legal complaint, so now I can answer some basic questions about the situation:

Q1. People have known for years that money gets funneled from shoe companies and assistant coaches to players and their families. But what’s the actual crime?   

The actual crimes are wire fraud and money laundering. Wire fraud is where an individual cheats someone out of money or property and uses “wire connections” to do so.  Regular fraud is simply cheating someone out of something through intentional deception.

Q2. But who is the victim?

Believe it or not, according to the complaint, the victims were the universities. By bribing potential student athletes, the fired coaches “deprived the universities of their right to control the use of their assets, including the decision of how to allocate a limited amount of athletic scholarships, and which, if revealed, would have further exposed the universities to tangible economic harm, including monetary and other penalties imposed by the NCAA.

Q3. Are we supposed to feel sorry for the University of Louisville and other Universities caught up in this?

Nope. They knew what they were doing. That includes Rick Pitino.

Q4. What really happened?

A few things.

One thing that happened is that Adidas executives, desperate to boost their brand, bribed high level basketball recruits to play at Louisville and other sponsored schools.

Another thing that happened is that agents and financial advisers bribed the coaches to steer players to retain their services.

Q5. Didn’t we always know this was happening?

Yes, but the NCAA couldn’t prove it – because they don’t have subpoena power or the capacity to run surveillance.

The media could have dug up a story and potentially blown the cover off the scandal, but sports media relies on coaches for access, and is more interested in generating content and clicks than doing investigative reporting.

Remember, our local CBB expert is the guy who’s been admonishing Memphis to hire a coach who knows how to “get things done” and lamenting the hire of Tubby Smith specifically because of his recruiting.

Q6: Speaking of “getting things done” what kind of money are we talking about?

Adidas wasn’t playing around.  They paid as much as $150,000 to get star recruits to head to their sponsored schools (like Louisville). And these weren’t one time payments via check – these were elaborate operations set up to cover their tracks. Assistant coaches were involved. Adidas executives were involved.

Q7: Is Memphis in the clear?

Nobody presumes Tubby Smith would ever be involved in stuff like this. Until a few days ago, that was considered a bad thing. I suspect people are now changing their tune a little bit. That being said, I’ll resist the temptation to label some schools “bad” and others “good.” This is an industry wide problem and no school is immune.

Q8. So what’s my take-away as a Memphis fan??

Again, without being self righteous about this (we all loved Calipari, right?), there is a certain vindication for those folks who supported Tubby Smith voraciously.

I don’t support Tubby Smith because he was clean. 

I thought Tubby Smith was a good hire because Memphis basketball needed a culture change. 

Memphis basketball had tried and succeeded to recruit along side the Louisville’s and the Arizona’s of the world. Without the benefit of P5 membership, keeping up with these schools was getting more and more difficult – and now we know a little more about why that is.

While trying to “get things done” Memphis basketball destroyed its own soul from within. This was evident in the aftermath of Calipari and during the entire Pastner regime.

Hiring Tubby Smith was a bold step in a different direction.

Today that step has been justified.

 

 

 

 

Joe Jackson Arrested, David Fizdale Speaks Out, Politics & Sports

JOE JACKSON ARRESTED

The news broke Wednesday evening that former Tiger great Joe Jackson was arrested in Memphis on gun and drug charges.

Even with the presumption of innocence, it’s a depressing turn for a guy who once held the entire hopes of the Memphis Iprogram on his slight but legendarily sturdy shoulders.

Here’s hoping that Jackson, a 2014 U of M graduate, moves past this incident and onto better things.

For fans of the program, the narrative arc of Jackson’s basketball career is just more evidence that the overwhelming majority of D1 caliber Memphis High School players are better off at non-local colleges and that the U of M Basketball program is better off with a roster made up primarily of non-local prospects.

That fact has now been proven, in my estimation, beyond a reasonable doubt.

FIZDALE SPEAKS OUT

Grizzlies coach David Fizdale spoke out Wednesday on President Trump’s recent comments regarding the racial violence last weekend in Charlottesville, VA.

My first reaction after reading Fizdale’s comments was to think that the “stick to sports” takes would pile up pretty fast and ignite something of a firestorm in Memphis.

As of this evening, it appears my first reaction was wrong.

That’s a good thing for all of us.

It’s 2017.

Sports and politics are irreversibly intertwined.

People seem to be getting used to that fact.

Sports as a powerful political platform are nothing new.  Whether it’s Muhammad Ali taking a stand against the Vietnam WarBlack Power salutes in 1968 Olympics or Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the National Anthem – athletes have been using their platform to draw attention to political causes for decades.

Furthermore, in the Twitter age, everyone has a platform.  Why should athletes and coaches be criticized for doing what the rest of us do all day long?

They shouldn’t.

Thankfully, it appears increasingly that they aren’t.

SPORTS DIMINISHED & DEBASED

Political viewpoints aside, one sad development to me is how much the current social media and political environment seems to have taken away from our collective enjoyment of sports.

Politics and sports overlap quite a bit. The same types of people are drawn to both and follow both.

In a normal political and social environment, the month of August (for sports fans in Memphis, anyway) would be dominated by anticipation of the upcoming football and basketball seasons. Twitter and casual conversation would be geared toward SEC football practice, the Tigers, etc…

2017 isn’t normal. 

In our current environment, politics is sucking all the oxygen out of the room.  Watching national politics in 2017 is akin to binge watching 5 seasons of a Netflix series in the course of one weekend.  It’s riveting, but the laundry and grocery shopping won’t be getting done.

Even the local sports dialogue that does break through the noise has necessarily assumed the same toxic divisive tone of our political discourse. The local media’s coverage of Memphis Tiger Basketball Head Coach Tubby Smith, for example, has been dark, cynical and I wonder if it isn’t tinged with a vague subconscious racial animus.

Would a white coach with Tubby Smith’s credentials be taking the same kind of heat?

I don’t know, but it’s an interesting question to ask isn’t it?

George Washington & Memphis’ Quest for Power

Is the dream of Memphis joining a “Power” conference still alive?

Yes, but not in the form you probably imagine.

Also, it tangentially involves Revolutionary War hero and first POTUS George Washington.

More on him in a minute.

AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco has been making the rounds on the radio / podcast circuit, and he’s spitting some hard truth for anyone willing to listen:

“We are not the Big 10, and we’re not the SEC and we’re not going to be – and neither are some of the other conferences that are in the so called P5.”

Shots fired, Big XII & ACC.

We have to do things differently. We can’t compete with (the SEC & Big 10) head on. We can’t try to be on Saturday every week because the networks will take their games. What we had to do was build our brand differently and be innovative. We’ve done a ton of Thursdays and Fridays. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do, but we get great exposure. We’re alone those nights, the college community is watching us. We had the 2 highest rated Thursday games this past year.”

The AAC has launched an aggressive campaign to achieve “Power” status, but if you depend on Memphis news sources you may have missed it.

Having worked at ESPN and at CBS Sports for 16 years, Aresco understands the financial realities facing AAC schools like Memphis:

“Even down the road we’re not going to have the resources of the Big 10 or the SEC or possibly some of the other conferences, we know that. But if we can get a lot more (money), we’ll be that much more competitive than we already are, and I think we will take our place among the P6 and find a way to officially get there.”

Aresco continues to push the narrative that the AAC belongs in the “Power 6” and he’s not backing down on this point.

For inspiration, Aresco turns to none other than the commander in chief of the Continental Army, George Washington himself.

What’s more American than that?

Aresco notes that Washington “couldn’t fight the British head on. Had he done that, the Revolution would have ended in a week or two. He had to fight on the fringes and eventually gain strength and do things differently.”

The commissioner understands the stakes:

“We have no choice. We are either going to be in that group (P5) or go backwards.”

This is undoubtedly true, and Aresco isn’t just talking about perception. He plans to eventually pursue legislation in the NCAA structure to become a member of the autonomy conferences (SEC, Big 10, ACC, Big XII, Pac 12).

To buttress his case, Aresco points to some impressive statistics. The AAC has had:

  • 32 football games with over a million viewers.
  • 19 wins against the P5 in the last 2 years.
  • More draft picks in first 5 rounds than the Big XII.

Ignored Locally

To codify and organize this “Power6” effort, the AAC released a strategic plan on May 1, 2017.

News of the plan’s release was covered by the Associated Press, Forbes, SportsBusiness Daily, and daily newspapers in other AAC Markets (Dallas, Tampa, Tulsa, etc…).

Memphis’ Commercial Appeal, on the other hand, didn’t cover the release of the strategic plan – and certainly hasn’t discussed or adopted usage of the term “Power 6.”

I reached out to someone at the Commercial Appeal to see if I had somehow missed their story on the strategic plan, and was told that they “didn’t think it was newsworthy.”

Ironically, just this week the CA ran a feature on the football program’s usage of athletic tape.

I guess newsworthiness is subjective.

Oh well, Aresco will surely soldier on….

 

 

 

 

Has Gary Parrish Been in a Coma Since 2014?

Tuesday morning, on Geoff Calkins’ radio show, Gary Parrish continued his assault on both the University of Memphis Men’s Basketball program and history itself.

To hear Parrish discuss the state of Memphis basketball, one would have to assume the man fell asleep in 2014 and woke up yesterday.

Accordingly, Someone should tell Gary Parrish that Mayweather beat Pacquiao.

Also, let him know that the Supreme Court has declared same-sex marriage legal and that Donald Trump performed surprisingly well in the GOP primaries in advance of the 2016 Presidential election.

And someone should definitely catch Parrish up on the condition of the Tiger Basketball program from 2014 to 2016.

While answering a question about the Tigers’ non-conference home schedule, Parrish initially took the opportunity to diverge into a disparaging riff on the Tigers’ roster – for those loyal listeners who missed the exact same discussion Monday afternoon.

After that, he proceeded to paint a picture of Memphis Basketball attendance that would make a revisionist historian blush:

“There are people who want to be there and feel like they should be there who have forever been there who I think are going to start to disappear simply because, what is fun about watching a bad basketball team lose over and over again?”

So, according to Parrish, there is a subsection of Memphis Tiger fans who have forever been there, but now they’re going to disappear.

In the immortal words of Clay Davis, sheeeeeeeit. 

Gary Parrish wants you to believe that declining attendance at Tiger basketball games is a new trend ushered in by Tubby Smith in the past year.

Apparently, Calkins didn’t feel like reminding Parrish about Fred Blose.

Fred Blose, for those who don’t recall, was the fan profiled in Calkins’ somewhat infamous column entitled: “What happens when Memphis Tigers fans give up?”

The column appeared in January of 2015 and chronicled the “cratering” attendance at Memphis Basketball games.

That’s right. January of 2015

More evidence that apparently Parrish wasn’t paying much attention to Tiger Basketball in 2015.

A few weeks ago it became clear he has either forgotten or never internalized that 7th place AAC finish, those 15 losses, and that rash of transfers amidst a 2-year absence from postseason.

Now Parrish seems to have forgotten about the ongoing civic obsession with declining attendance at Tiger basketball games over Josh Pastner’s final 2 seasons.

Here’s a refresher from June of 2016, courtesy of Parrish’s former employer – the Commercial Appeal:

“Memphis averaged 12,028 in announced home attendance for 2015-16, a 13.6-percent decrease from 2014-15 (when it ranked 21st nationally at 13,915) and a 25.4-percent decrease from 2013-14 (when it ranked 10th nationally at 16,121).

But those numbers don’t accurately reflect what was clearly a massive drop-off in home attendance last year during former Tigers coach Josh Pastner’s final season. Memphis needed a late-season push from fans just to keep its average turnstile count for the season above 6,000.”

So the facts are this:

  1. Tiger basketball attendance dropped precipitously over a multi-year period earlier this decade and has never recovered.
  2. Gary Parrish wants you to believe that next year’s low attendance will be the beginning of that trend.

Parrish isn’t stupid and I can’t imagine he’d be deliberately misleading, so I’ll be generous and assume his memory and judgement are momentarily clouded by animus and the need to fill air-time.

But that actually wasn’t the worst part of Parrish’s appearance on Tuesday.

The worst was this musing:

“We’ve reached a point where I don’t understand why a single person, like honestly anybody, would go to a University of Memphis basketball game over a Memphis Grizzlies basketball game.”

Tigers vs. Grizzlies. The tiredest of all tired Memphis sports topics. Also the most unnecessarily toxic.

I won’t delve too deeply into the host of possible reasons one might attend a College Basketball game, some of which Calkins immediately alluded to – being a lifelong fan of a program, being an alumnus, having an emotional connection to the program, it being a less expensive form of sports entertainment, distaste for the professional game, etc….

Instead, I’ll just openly wonder why this guy is trying to drive a wedge between the Grizzlies and the Tigers.

It’s not like we haven’t heard this bullshit before.

We certainly heard it in late 2015 – when Parrish’s buddy Josh Pastner dropped a home game to Texas-Arlington. And again later that season when the Tigers fell at home to East Carolina.

Someone should tell Parrish about those performances – he seems to have missed them entirely.

Musing: 10 Bothersome Things

Occasionally, in this space, we muse.

We have mused about Facebook, and about Girl Scout Cookies.

We once mused about Panda Express, and later about Super Bowl Parties.

Today, we muse about (absurdly) random bothersome things, some large and incredibly serious, some small and trivial.

Let the musings begin…

Proceed to the route. Sometimes when I ask the lady in my iPhone for directions to a place, she tells me to proceed to the route. Here’s the thing: if I knew where the route was, I wouldn’t be asking for help. It’s preposterous. Surely we can do better. And by “we” I mean the lady inside my iPhone.

Surely, she can do better.

Share size candy bags. Let’s be honest, nobody shares these things. I know I don’t. “Share size” candy bags are about one thing, and one thing only: gluttony. “Share size” candy means that when I’m finished, instead of wanting slightly more, I want slightly to puke. This is evil marketing.

Share size candy bags can go straight back to the fiery hell from which they came.

It’s called “share size,” but everyone knows that’s total bullshit.

The Opioid Epidemic. Shifting gears to a more serious topic, the opioid epidemic is a real bummer. Statistics reveal that 91 people die every day in the United States from opioid overdoses, but the actual number is way higher. American cities are being ravaged, and the companies that purport to be part of the solution might be part of the problem.

Congress is getting involved, which likely means nothing useful will happen.

Transitioning now to more esoteric bothersome things….

The Concept of Maintenance. I’m not good at routine maintenance. In fact, I suck at it. I don’t like brushing my dog’s teeth, keeping the lawn mower clean, meditating, or going to the Doctor. Without proper maintenance, shit breaks down. This is a problem. This isn’t exactly a contemporary musing, but rather a timeless condition that has yet to be solved. Nevertheless, it made the list.

My dog’s breath is rancid, by the way.

Moving on.

Emotions. Apparently stoicism is a thing, but I wasn’t blessed with the capacity for it. Stoicism is the endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint. According to the internet, an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge, and that the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.

I am not indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.

Also…

Housing Prices. For all the talk about the terrible economy, housing prices in Memphis, TN continue to soar. I always seem to (unconsciously) time the housing market poorly.

Devolution of Political Discourse. New data from Wakefield Research found that one in 10 couples, married and not, have ended their relationships in a battle over political differences. For younger millennials, it’s 22 percent. And nearly one in three Americans said that political clashes over Trump have “had a negative impact on their relationship,” said a recent report. Obviously this problem has intensified as the sources of news consumption have proliferated. Whatever the cause, it kind of sucks.

Liberals. Just kidding! Not going there.

Trendy Concept Restaurants. Earlier this week I ordered take out online from a trendy concept restaurant. Ordering and paying was extremely easy. But when I showed up 20 minutes later and told someone behind the counter that I had ordered online, he looked surprised to learn that they even had an online ordering feature. Nobody in the actual restaurant actually knew about my order.

Also, the food wasn’t good.

But the name and branding were trendy!

Negativity. Negativity is the worst, this list notwithstanding.

Perhaps soon we’ll muse about good things.

Perhaps.

 

 

 

Closing Arguments

Today I was a guest on the Geoff Calkins show and asked to defend my recent columns criticizing Calkins and his fellow radio pal, Gary Parrish for their hit pieces on the Memphis basketball program run by head coach Tubby Smith.

If you’re interested, the audio can be found here.

The conversation ended up being a friendly debate, and we were essentially arguing separate points.

We stipulated a few points as the discussion progressed:

  • The Tubby Smith experiment can still theoretically go either way, and we’re hoping it goes well.
  • To win at Memphis in the past has usually (if not always) meant operating in the gray areas in terms of recruiting, NCAA compliance, etc.
  • Josh Pastner wasn’t capable of managing the high level players he was able to recruit to Memphis.

Calkins challenged me to argue why the Tubby Smith tenure hasn’t been a disaster thus far, and I basically responded by saying it’s just too early (1 year in) and too drastic to issue that judgement.

But that wasn’t what I set out to establish.

My basic argument was that the criticism of Smith often ignores or distorts the facts and the recent history of Memphis Basketball.

The obvious evidence of this distortion, which I set forth at the outset, was Parrish’s assertion that the mess at Memphis was
“created” by Tubby Smith.

This assertion simply ignores the fact that by the time Smith got the job, Memphis Basketball was already an undisputed (expect perhaps by Parrish) mess. Calkins wasn’t interested in defending Parrish so we moved on.

I regret not asking Calkins point blank to defend or explain his previous statement that not getting into the Big XII would begin a “decline into irrelevance” for Memphis athletics. Because if Calkins stands by the “decline into irrelevance” statement, than it’s a tacit acknowledgement that Tubby Smith is fighting against forces that his critics (including Calkins himself) now seem reluctant to acknowledge.

The argument now seems to be it’s as easy as it ever was to win big at Memphis.

Indeed, the evidence just doesn’t support the seemingly ubiquitous idea that programs at Memphis’ level (AAC / MWC)  can succeed at a top 25 level simultaneously in football and basketball.

It’s not that it can’t be done, it’s just that it hasn’t been done.

Therefore it’s hard and might take a while (which is all Tubby Smith is saying).

It’s not defeatist to point that out, it’s an acknowledgement of reality.

Yet nobody with a platform wants to acknowledge that. I’ll even concede that it’s not Tubby’s place to point it out, just like I didn’t like Pastner’s winning is hard schtick.

So Calkins and I really weren’t far off.

Given that this debate took place on Calkins’ turf, and that I was a bit awestruck to just be on that platform, I probably lost some points for lack of clarity.

Nevertheless I stand by the position that the criticism of Tubby is over the top, and that when it comes from Calkins and Parrish it cements a narrative that permeates the sports culture in the entire city (and in Parrish’s case – across the college basketball landscape).

Finally, I appreciate that Calkins admitted that he’s genuinely sensitive to the suggestion that he’s too hard on Tubby. I don’t believe Calkins is “out to get” Tubby just because the media doesn’t have great access to the program, though that fact is true.

I think if Tubby wins, Calkins will write nice things and everyone will be happy.

Except maybe Gary Parrish. He’ll probably still find a way to rile up the Memphis fans in order to sell used computers and vodka.

 

 

 

Calkins Contradicts Calkins

“So if competing in the world today is different than it was for Memphis 10 years ago, it’s only because of the philosophy of the head coach.”

Geoff Calkins, 5/1/2017

Harsh words.

But what was Calkins saying about Memphis’ ability to “compete in the world” last year?

“If they are not (successful at obtaining Big 12 admission), Memphis athletics will continue on a slow slide toward irrelevance.”

Geoff Calkins, 5/3/2016

What a difference a year makes, huh?

A year ago, according to Geoff Calkins, Memphis’ place in the college basketball universe depended on things like money, resources, television contracts and conference affiliation.

Today, also according to Calkins, it’s entirely dependent on Tubby Smith’s recruiting philosophy.

Geoff Calkins is a great columnist. I enjoy his work and even own his recently published book.

So it’s with sadness that I’ve been enduring his blistering attacks on Tubby Smith.

It’s not that Tubby Smith doesn’t deserve to be questioned. Obviously, that goes with the territory at Memphis.

I just can’t figure out why Calkins (and Gary Parrish) continue to write hit pieces based on demonstrably false premisses.

Last week, Parrish falsely implied that Tubby Smith inherited a program on the rise.

Um, ok.

Now, Calkins is contradicting his own previous statements by telling us that nothing has changed at Memphis vis a vis their competitive realities.

It boggles the mind.

Again, the latest false attack, from Calkins today:

“So if competing in the world today is different than it was for Memphis 10 years ago, it’s only because of the philosophy of the head coach.”

Only?

Only?

Just so we’re clear about how wrong and unfair this is, let’s consult a dictionary.

According to the fine folks at Google, the wordOnly is an adverb that means “no one or nothing more besides; solely or exclusively. “

So Calkins is claiming that, apart from the philosophy of the head basketball coach, there have been no other impactful (to recruiting) changes at Memphis over the past 10 years?

This is so unfair and so false, it’s almost not worth taking apart.

But let’s do it anyway, with a few assists from Calkins himself.

As an outside observer, it’s clear that perhaps the biggest difference in the Memphis basketball program between 2007 to 2017 is the Athletic Director overseeing it.

Everybody knows that then Memphis Athletic Director R.C. Johnson gave basketball coach John Calipari complete dominion and everything he wanted.

Memphis has the NCAA probation to prove it.

How do I know Calipari had unfettered control?

Because Geoff Calkins told me so.

Here’s Geoff Calkins on May 29, 2009, in the aftermath of NCAA allegations against the UofM:

“The most serious allegation is that former Memphis player Derrick Rose had someone take his SAT for him. What’s the big deal about that? R.C. Johnson had someone else run his whole athletic department.”

Boom.

But how does this differ from the kind of athletic department in which Tubby Smith operates – a department currently run by Athletic Director Tom Bowen?

Again, who better to ask than Geoff Calkins himself?

Here is Calkins’ tweet from January 3, 2013 the day after Bowen publicly contradicted then head basketball coach Josh Pastner on a minor scheduling issue:

“If I’m Josh Pastner, I try to win a tournament game, then take the best job that comes available. Totally gutted by his AD.”

So 10 years ago the Memphis basketball coach gets to run the entire athletic department, and under the current boss the basketball coach should expect to be “gutted” publicly if he has an opinion about the schedule.

Got it.

No difference.

Again, nothing is different, other than the Head Coach’s philosophy.

It’s absurd.

Not to beat a dead horse, but it also bears repeating that over the past 10 years Memphis’ primary geographic rivals (Ole Miss, UT, Arkansas, etc.) have developed an incredible resource advantage.

Surely, this effects recruiting budgets.

Over the past decade, the SEC’s television revenue distribution has gone from $10.2 million in 2007 to $40 million in 2016. Over the same time period Memphis’ television revenue went from a meager $1.1 million per year to a meager $2 million per year.

Desperate to keep up, Memphis tried, and failed, to get into the Big 12.

So what? What does not getting into the Big 12 have to do with basketball recruiting?

Good questions. For the answer let’s again turn to Geoff Calkins.

Here’s he is on May 3, 2016 describing what it would mean if Memphis failed to get into the Big 12.

“If they are not (successful at obtaining Big 12 admission), Memphis athletics will continue on a slow slide toward irrelevance.”

How can you square this May 3rd, 2016 statement with blaming Tubby Smith exclusively for the fact that Memphis’ 2017 recruiting isn’t up to snuff?

You can’t.

Again, I’m a big Calkins fan, but this is getting ridiculous.

 

Zero Sum Game

With the University of Memphis enjoying unprecedented football success in the midst of a prolonged dry spell for its traditionally strong Men’s basketball program, the question has inevitably been asked:

Is Memphis now a football school?

The typical response, of course, is to deflect the question.

The typical response is to suggest that, like Florida, Wisconsin or Louisville; Memphis will find a way to achieve and sustain success in both football and men’s basketball.

Unfortunately, the evidence strongly suggests that’s unrealistic.

First, let’s define sustained success.

Let’s stipulate that a typical Memphis fan’s expectation is that Memphis should both qualify for the NCAA tournament and participate in a Bowl game every 4 out of 5 years.

There are 41 Bowl games (82 spots) and only 128 teams, so most fans rightly realize that qualifying for a Bowl isn’t that hard.

And there are now 68 teams selected annually for the NCAA tournament. Memphis fans have always expected to at least qualify for the Big Dance.

So, again, let’s use 80% (4 out of 5 years) in each / both sport as a measuring stick.

Would it surprise you to learn that virtually no other school at Memphis’ resource level succeeds at that rate in both major sports?

Point of fact: Of the 23 schools at Memphis’ approximate revenue level, only one has qualified for the NCAA tournaments in at least 4 of the previous 5 seasons. Furthermore, that school (Cincinnati) emerged from a BCS league (BIG EAST) and thus had a built in revenue advantage.

Consider the following:

  • Memphis competes in just one of two conferences (AAC / MWC) who attempt to field both high level men’s basketball programs and football programs despite the lack of a lucrative television contract.
  • The average athletic department annual revenue in the AAC / MWC is approximately $43m. Both leagues have relativity minor TV payouts.
  • The AAC / MWC revenue figures compare favorably to true mid-major and single NCAA tournament bid conferences like the MAC ($30m), but pale in comparison to so called “power” leagues.
  • In the SEC, the average revenue per athletic department is over $100m annually.
  • Having less than half the money of its wealthy major conference peers has consequences beyond not being able to retain coaches, build new facilities, pay for chartered planes, etc.
  • It also means dedicating less resources to marketing both basketball and football. It means less resources for recruiting high school athletes for both sports. It means less resources for compliance advisers to process high school transcripts for prospects for both sports.

The list goes on.

Indeed, the evidence indicates that schools at Memphis’ level essentially have to choose between men’s basketball and football when it comes to resource allocation.

Most, for obvious reasons, choose football.

Football success, it is rightly imagined, will lead to better conference and TV / media alternatives which will then lead to higher revenue which will then be used to enhance the entire athletic department.

In the meantime, however, basketball clearly suffers.

Of the 23 schools in the AAC / MWC, a startling 14 have earned zero or one NCAA tournament bid(s) over the past 5 seasons.

Houston, USF, UCF, Tulane, East Carolina, Air Force, San Jose State, Utah State, Colorado State, Hawaii, Nevada, UNLV, Wyoming, Fresno State.

Memphis’ college basketball neighborhood is basically a wasteland of woebegone programs.

Other than Cincinnati, only one other school of the 23 has more than 2 NCAA tournament appearances over that period of time.

San Diego State.

The Aztecs have been to 3 of the past 5 NCAA tournaments and qualified for Bowl Games each of the past 5 years.

San Diego State?!?!

Memphis fans like to be mentioned alongside Tennessee, Louisville, Ole Miss and Kansas.

Not San Diego State for crying out loud.

But the evidence suggests Memphians all need to get a better grip on the current landscape.

Not a single peer (AAC / MWC) institution outside of Cincinnati has hit the aforementioned 80% (4 out of 5) success rate in both sports over the past 5 seasons.

I talked to a high level administrator in the PAC 12 who formerly worked at an AAC school. He confirmed the difficulty of trying to win in both sports outside the major conferences:

“It’s very hard. How many non Power 5’s have a top 30 men’s basketball program and football program? There’s less money in all aspects and usually a smaller donor base. Less TV money. It effects academics, athletic training, etc.”

So the bottom line is this: if you’re the kind of fan who thinks Memphis should qualify for the NCAA tournament roughly 4 out of every 5 years then you’re asking them to be better than 21 of their 22 true peers.

That’s a 95% mark.

If you want them to go to 4 bowls every 5 years, you’re asking them to be better than 15 of those same 22 true peers.

If you’re asking them to do both, there’s literally zero precedent for it.

The Immediate and Long Term Future

Memphis’ conference commissioner Mike Aresco isn’t sitting still. Recognizing that the basketball product has suffered, the AAC is trying to improve its hoops reputation in the hopes of making it easier for league schools to qualify for the NCAA tournament. Towards that end, Wichita State is joining the league for the 2017-18 season.

Soon, Aresco will go to go to work on the TV / revenue situation. As a former TV executive, there’s some indication that Aresco is positioning the AAC to be the first league to take advantage of non traditional digital platforms such as Amazon.

I’m skeptical, however, that there are windfalls to be had in the current configuration. Instead of catching up to the so called “Power” conferences, the AAC may have to struggle along and be creative until the currently wealthy schools come back to the pack.

Indeed, the latest round of lucrative TV deals for conferences like the Big XII and ACC may ultimately represent the beginning of the end of an era. If you thought the last round of conference realignment was crazy, the next decade may be even less stable.

ESPN is hemorrhaging revenue and laying off large swaths of its staff in part because millennials don’t buy cable.  How much longer will schools like Kansas State, Iowa State, Texas Tech, etc. receive the equivalent of college athletics welfare checks? I’d be shocked if the college landscape doesn’t drastically shift again within a decade.

Of course, all this may come to a head much sooner.

In the meantime, Memphis fans might want to embrace the idea of being a football school and enjoy whatever success, modest or otherwise, comes along as a result of Tubby Smith’s efforts with the men’s basketball program.

 

 

Gary Parrish is Barely a Journalist

Used computer salesman, ‘Brooklyn’ Gary Parrish took another cheap shot at Memphis Basketball Wednesday night:

Never mind the fact that the tweet is likely bullshit, that it’s entirely possible Memphis backed off Matt Stanley or made it clear that his role would be limited.

Even if Stanley technically had an offer, the tweet is a cheap shot. Memphis has signed 5 or 6 recruits ranked higher than Stanley – so Parrish is deliberately creating a misleading narrative to rile up Memphis fans and entertain his national followers.

But never mind all that.

What was nice about this little episode is that we finally got confirmation that apparently Gary Parrish thinks his job consists of “looking for clicks.”

I learned this because as I was scrolling through the replies to Parrish’s latest chicken-shit “commentary” on Memphis basketball, I eventually found this beauty:

As of 10:08 pm, the above reply by Alex T. Wood, which claims that Parrish’s job is to “look for clicks,” had 1 like:  Gary Parrish himself.

That’s right folks, Gary Parrish thinks his job is to look for clicks.  

Social media interns look for clicks.

Sales and PR professionals look for clicks.

Porn producers look for clicks.

In other words, Gary Parrish is not necessarily a journalist.

According to Wikipedia, A journalist is a person who collects, writes, or distributes news or other current information. A journalist’s work is called journalism

I guess Gary Parrish is a journalist in the same way that anyone who can locate the RT button on Twitter is a journalist – but not so much beyond that.

Gary Parrish is a talk radio personality and a clickbait generator for CBS Sports.

It also wouldn’t surprise me if he’s been paid to help deliver recruits or get coaches jobs.  I can’t prove that of course – because I’m not a journalist. I write a blog.

Gary Parrish is good at his job, and seems like a decent guy, but he’s not (or is barely) a journalist.

 

Fake News: Gary Parrish Edition

If geopolitical events of the past year have taught us anything – it’s that we should all be more discerning consumers of information.

We should all be on the lookout for fake news. 

Which on Tuesday night led me to ask the following question:

Why is Gary Parrish writing misleading columns about the University of Memphis men’s basketball program?

I don’t know the answer.

Nor am I here to defend the men’s basketball program at the University of Memphis, or its head coach Tubby Smith – neither of which are easy tasks these days.

This is just a clear acknowledgement that local resident Gary Parrish, a radio host and respected national college basketball writer at CBS Sports, wrote a misleading column about the men’s basketball program at the University of Memphis on Tuesday.

In the first paragraph of his hit piece, Parrish paints a picture of a Memphis basketball program in very good shape when Tubby Smith inherited it in April, 2016.

Never mind the fact that nobody remotely familiar with the Memphis program in April, 2016 saw the situation that way.

In 2014-15 Memphis lost 14 games, finished 5th in the AAC, suffered a rash of transfers and missed the post-season entirely.

In 2015-16 Memphis lost 15 games, finished 7th in the AAC, suffered a rash of transfers and missed the post-season entirely.

Here’s a fact that Gary Parrish knows to be true: 29 losses and no-postseason appearances in 2-consecutive seasons at Memphis is a bad situation.

Period.

Tubby may take it from bad to worse. 

Again, I’m not here to argue otherwise.

But Parrish is arguing that Tubby took it from “not bad” to bad.

To be fair, Parrish was referring specifically to the returning roster when offering his assessment. He neglected to include the context of recent performance. He also neglected to mention the already (as of April, 2016) constant parade of transfers out of the program – a fact which is highly relevant to the point of his column.

To support the false premise that the Memphis program was in decent shape, Parrish pointed to the presence on the roster of “four former top-100 recruits (Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson, Markel Crawford, Nick Marshall) and another top-100 prospect (Charlie Moore) signed to a national letter of intent.”

Parrish, being a college basketball expert, knows that top-100 prospects like Moore rarely stay committed to their school after a coaching change. In fact, he’s probably made this exact point no less than 1000 times on his radio show.

Parrish, being a local college basketball expert, knows that Marshall went AWOL from the program shortly after Smith was hired, that his absence from the program could hardly be attributable to Smith.

At best, Parrish’s references to Moore and Marshall were misleading.

At worst, Parrish’s references to Moore and Marshall were intentionally misleading.

Parrish then went on to discuss the topic du jour on talk radio in Memphis on Tuesday: the fact that Memphis Athletic Director Tom Bowen issued a statement on Tuesday that contradicted a statement released by Tubby Smith on Monday.

The contradiction?

On Tuesday Bowen said he and Tubby Smith weren’t surprised by the rash of transfers following Smith’s first year as head coach in 2016-17.

Yet on Monday, when responding specifically to the Lawson news, Smith said in a statement that he was in fact “surprised and disappointed in the decision, as they had a strong year for us, and were a big part of our success during the season.”

Guess what?

There was also a 3rd quote!

The 3rd relevant quote was delivered by Smith himself on March 28, 2017.

Smith was asked at his end of year press conference if he was surprised by Guard Craig Randall’s decision to transfer.

Smith’s answer:

“I’m never surprised at anything young men decide to do.”

So there you have it folks, Tubby Smith is not surprised.

Parrish’s column never mentioned the 3rd quote (found here at the 6:20 mark). In fairness, I doubt Parrish even knew about it, because I doubt he cared to attend the end of year press conference for the coach of a 19-13, 5th place AAC team.

On the other hand, if Parrish is willing to dedicate space in his national column to pillorying Tubby Smith, one could argue he should have the courtesy to attend his end of year press conference – or at least listen to it on the Commercial Appeal website afterwards.

But I’ve wandered from the point.

The point is this:

Was there an unfortunate, obvious contradiction in the Bowen / Smith statements? 

Clearly.

But was it hard to figure out what Tubby Smith meant?

Not for anyone who cared to listen to the March 28 press conference or for anyone that is trying to be intellectually honest.

I think we can all assume that Tubby Smith, after 26 years as a collegiate head coach, isn’t astonished at players transferring – even if he was clearly disappointed and taken aback by the Lawson’s announcement on Monday.

Hardly confusing, and hardly a reason to kill the guy.

Parrish then moved on to his bread and butter – shady recruiting. He proceeded to recite the now tired trope that Tubby Smith has “burned his most valuable bridge” to the fertile Memphis base by having demoted Keelon Lawson last Spring.

I’m not interested in litigating the details of the Lawson / Smith situation. Parrish, being connected, clearly knows them better than most people.

Yet it seems obvious to me that reasonable people should be able to agree that both of the following facts are true:

(a) Kansas offered a better situation for the Lawson family than Memphis did, and…

(b) Tubby Smith has earned the right to build his program and staff the way he sees fit.

In fact, if Smith decides he’s still dedicated to recruiting Memphis, he will have a line of Memphians 100-deep by Wednesday morning ready to take Lawson’s old job. Many of those 100 would be qualified, connected and hungry.

I’ve said that Smith should think carefully before re-committing to a local recruiting strategy.

Which brings me to my final beef with Parrish. The not-so-thinly disguised message of his column, and indeed of much of his daily radio program over the years, is that college basketball recruiting is an unsavory endeavor – and especially so in Memphis.

Of course, Parrish is right on this point. But how he goes about presenting this narrative is a tad irksome.

On his show, Parrish often shares stories of college coaches skirting NCAA rules. Parrish protects the anonymity of these coaches, presumably to protect the confidence of his sources.

It’s understandable, and makes for great radio. But at times it also makes Parrish seem less like a journalist and more like a P.R. guy for coaches he clearly likes – especially when he’s openly advocating for certain coaches to get certain jobs.

In the past, Parrish has suggested that Steve Forbes of ETSU and Andy Kennedy of Ole Miss would be a good fit for the Memphis job. These are hardly guys with sterling reputations as regards the NCAA or the law in general.

But again, I’m slightly off the point.

The point is that the column was misleading and unduly harsh. Parrish is out here killing Tubby Smith for trying to win the only way he knows how.

The point is it seems as if Parrish, whose work I’ve admired and followed for years, has an agenda.

The point is that it seems as if fake news has hit Memphis basketball.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything You Believe About Tiger Basketball Is a Lie

There’s a central idea concerning Memphis basketball.

If you’ve been around the program for any substantial period of time you’ve encountered the idea countless times.

You’ve accepted the idea as doctrine, you’ve come to believe it unquestionably.

All Memphis Basketball needs in order to win at a high level is a competent coach that can keep the local talent home.

Boom.

There it is.

If you’ve listened to talk radio this week, you’ve heard this idea repeated ad nauseam.

It has served as the basis for every modern day criticism, commentary and analysis of the Memphis program, from Dana Kirk to Tubby Smith.

The idea itself undergirds the fan base’s emotional connection to the program.

Penny Hardaway, Larry Finch, Keith Lee, Andre Turner, Elliot Perry.

It’s eloquent.

It’s distinctive.

There’s only one problem.

It’s a myth.

It isn’t true.

It’s a lie.

Think about it. What actual Tiger team or era serves as a basis for the belief that a group of predominately Memphis kids can collectively win at a high level in the NCAA tournament?

None.

No team or era can serve as a realistic basis for this belief.

1973? 

Folks old enough to remember the 1973 Memphis State NCAA Finalist team will tell you that though the heart of the team may have been Larry Finch, the key to their success was Larry Kenon. Kenon, a 2-time NBA all star, was certainly the player on that team that went on to the most professional success. It may surprise you to know that Kenon was born in Alabama and recruited to Memphis via a Junior College in Texas.

Oh, and the team’s point guard, Bill Laurie, was from Versailles, Missouri.

1983-1985?

At first glance, this should be the team / era that provides the most compelling argument for the central idea that recruiting Memphis is enough to establish a high level Division 1 basketball team.

All 5 starters on the 1985 Final Four team were from Memphis, assuming of course that you count West Memphis, AR – home to star forward Keith Lee.

Indeed, this was the team that seemingly gave rise to the myth.

Yet the uncomfortable facts of the 1985 era Tigers undermine the idea of “success” and present an odd parallel from to the present era when you consider the following facts:

  • It was later revealed that numerous extra benefits were systematically provided to the players on that team – including cash payments to Lee, cars to William Bedford; and extra pell grant money to numerous athletes.
  • The years following 1985 proved to be incredibly dark for many members of this team. The coach served time in prison, the NAACP accused the program of exploiting black athletes, one player (Aaron Price) was murdered, another (Baskerville Holmes) killed himself in an apparent murder-suicide. Bedford had a long struggle with drug addiction. Vincent Askew was later arrested for having sex with a minor.

In other words, if you’re using the 1985 team to prove the point that you can win with Memphis players if you’re willing to – as 92.9 radio host Gary Parrish is so fond of saying – “do what it takes” to get and keep Memphis players happy, then I’m not sure you’re being realistic about what it takes.

Also, literally no other Memphis-dominated team in the ensuing 32 years has produced even close to that level of on-court success.

The Larry Finch era?

Finch coached Memphis from 1986 to 1997 and fully relied on the central idea to build his teams. Finch routinely gobbled up local talent at the beginning of his tenure and was eventually fired, in part, because he started losing Memphis talent to SEC rivals.

Finch recruited a great Memphis high school player, Elliot Perry, to lead his first Tiger teams. Finch surrounded Perry with other local products. Perry was an incredible college player, and eventually went on to a nice career in the NBA.

Care to guess how many NCAA tournament games Perry won at Memphis?

One.

Elliot Perry won one NCAA tournament game at Memphis – probably because the Memphis guys surrounding him weren’t that good.

Finch rode Penny Hardaway to an Elite 8 in 1992 and Lorenzen Wright to a Sweet 16 in 1995, but both those teams were reinforced by Finch’s nephew – David Vaughn of Whites Creek, TN.

Vaughn, a highly skilled 6’9 Forward with a soft-touch, hit last second shots during the Round of 32 during both the 1992 and 1995 NCAA tournaments.

In other words, if it weren’t for the last second heroics of a guy from outside Nashville – Memphis wouldn’t have had a Sweet 16 appearance from 1985 until 2006.

The Calipari Era?

Of course we all know that the great teams of 2006 – 2009 had but a few Memphis guys, typically role players such as Jeremy Hunt, Willie Kemp and Andre Allen.

Indeed, though Calipari rattled off the names of local high school coaches during his introductory press conference, he quickly decided that Memphis kids weren’t worth the trouble and barely recruited them during his tenure.

So again, where’s the proof that a group of elite Memphis high school talent can produce an elite college basketball team?

The Josh Pastner era?

Nope.

From 2009 – 2016, Pastner worked tirelessly to stockpile high level Memphis talent during what was widely considered to be the high water mark for high school basketball prospects coming out of the city.

Joe Jackson, Tarik Black, Chris Crawford, Adonis Thomas, Austin Nichols, Nick King, Markel Crawford, Dedric Lawson, KJ Lawson.

All came to Memphis as celebrated, big time prospects. All had multiple high major offers from “Power 5” teams. Jackson, Thomas, and Lawson were McDonalds All Americans.

Number of NCAA wins during this 7 year era: two.

TWO!

All of the above players left Memphis after disappointing careers.

Bad coaching? Maybe. But that debate has been had and had and had again.

The point here, is that it’s time to let the dream die. It’s time to expose the myth.

There is absolutely no proof, absolutely no reason to believe based on the evidence, that recruiting the best talent in Memphis and assembling it into a team is a recipe for high level sustainable success in college basketball. 

I don’t know if Tubby Smith is the guy to lead Memphis basketball to sustained success or not. Unlike the self-proclaimed experts on talk radio, I’m willing to give him more than one season and two recruiting classes before declaring the hire a disaster. Certainly the early returns are troubling.

What I do know is that judging Smith exclusively on his failure to recruit or retain Memphis kids is shortsighted and ignores the totality of the modern history of the program.

 

About Those Memphis Kids…

Let’s connect a few dots here.

John Calipari didn’t recruit Memphis kids because he determined they were too much trouble.

Josh Pastner was run out of town because the Memphis kids he recruited didn’t win enough and then repeatedly quit on his program.

And now Tubby Smith should be run out of town because he’s not ‘doing what it takes’ to keep Memphis kids happy.

Maybe the problem isn’t the coach.

Maybe the problem is…wait for it…Memphis kids!

Maybe?

For 30 years Tiger Basketball fans have held on to a dream that the right coach will assemble the best Memphis kids and return the program to the Final Four.

Maybe it’s time for this dream to die.

The dream took root in 1973 and flowered in 1985.

1973 took place 44 years ago. Richard Nixon was still hanging on.

44 years is a long time. Back then, for example, players couldn’t offer two middle fingers in a Tweet.

Also, upon closer inspection 1973 and 1985 aren’t the same dream as you might remember.

Larry Kenon, arguably the most talented player on the 1973 team, was from Birmingham, AL.

That 1985 team? Its legacy is pure tragedy. We eventually found out that the beloved coach of that team was a criminal, the players had been paid, and that the NAACP had determined that the program was exploiting black athletes. One starter died in an apparent murder-suicide, and another saw his career derailed by drug addiction.

So again, maybe it’s time for Memphis basketball to seek a new legacy rather than coast on the deluded dreams of yesteryear.

And maybe you’ll understand why I wanted to throw up when I tuned into local radio yesterday and heard our self proclaimed “local college basketball expert” radio-host tell us everything Tubby Smith is doing wrong.

Tubby Smith has been a head College Basketball coach for 26 consecutive seasons. He’s had 24 winning seasons and led his teams to 18 NCAA tournaments. He’s won 7 conference championships and an NCAA championship. He’s won multiple National Coach of the Year Awards, including as recently as 2016. He’s won at the best job in the profession (Kentucky) and at the worst (Texas Tech) and at levels in between (Tulsa, Georgia, Minnesota).

So with all due respect to the radio host, I think Tubby Smith is our local college basketball expert.

The guy on the radio clearly thinks the best strategy for Memphis basketball is to ‘keep people happy’ in the local college basketball scene, collect a bunch of Memphis kids, and wait for the NCAA tournament wins to start piling up.  The guy on the radio is aghast that Tubby Smith is doing anything but this….

Yet where is the evidence that this approach will yield the most success? It certainly isn’t to be found in the Josh Pastner era, or the Dana Kirk era – assuming of course that your idea of success involves not getting called out on the carpet by the US Department of Justice and the NAACP.

Alternate theory:  perhaps the best approach for now is to let the coach assemble a roster of players and coach his team. After all, until the Memphis kids quit on the season, the 2016-17 team was looking quite promising. Individual players were improving. Tubby Smith appears to understand the game of basketball. Maybe he can actually develop a core group of 4-year players that will find some success. Maybe he’ll even find one or two Memphis kids that fit his program and (gasp) actually want to play for the Tigers.

Or maybe he’ll fail and be replaced in a few years. Maybe believing that Tubby Smith can win at Memphis, with his particular approach to recruiting, is a pipe dream.

Either way, it’s a more realistic dream than the one our ‘local college basketball experts’ have been peddling for years now – that Memphis kids can somehow be the nucleus of a high level, consistent college basketball program.

Thoughts on Memphis Big XII Snub (??)

*Several people have asked my thoughts about Brett McMurphy’s ESPN report that Memphis “is not among the schools being considered” for Big XII expansion at this point.

(*At least 1 or 2).

Here are a few thoughts:

  • My first reaction, like a lot of Memphis fans, is denial. How can this be true? What happened?
  • Geoff Calkins has already answered most of those questions over at the CA.
  • By the way, if you’re a conspiracy theory type person, you can parse McMurphy’s words and come to the conclusion that the Big XII has already decided to add Memphis.  After all, why would the Big XII need to consider Memphis if they’ve already decided to add them?  They wouldn’t.  I didn’t consider walking my dog this morning.  I just walked him.  I do that every morning.
  • Do I believe that?  Absolutely not, but it’s a little odd that the U of M president (David Rudd) wouldn’t confirm that Memphis has been eliminated. I assume Rudd was probably just allowing time for the bitterness and hurt to sink in.
  • Back in reality, at least one part of the ESPN report makes no sense.   McMurphy wrote:

    “Sources told ESPN that offering to accept less revenue might have actually hurt Memphis’ chances. The league, sources said, is more interested in teams that can strengthen and add value to the league as opposed to schools that need to be ‘propped up’ by the league.”

    How does having a ton of money available from boosters translate to the need to be ‘propped up’ by the league?  It doesn’t. This is a shot taken at Memphis by McMurphy’s anonymous source and alludes to the perception problems that come from stories alleging that FedEx was going to pay off the Big XII to Memphis.

  • Similar PR damage was done many years ago when Memphis based writer Gary Parrish of CBS Sports wrote that Memphis was using FedEx to buy its way into the BIG EAST, though eventually that effort paid off when Memphis was accepted into that league.
  • Speaking of the BIG EAST, remember when UCF, SMU, Houston, Boise State and SDSU were all announced / added and Memphis was left behind?  I do. It was a gut punch, a lot like the one Memphis took last week.
  • The lesson: be patient. Whatever 8, 9, or 10 schools eventually get left behind in the AAC will be fine for a few years. They’ll still be on ESPN all the time, and they’ll still have access to the CFB playoff and access bowl.  There may even be expansion (Boise? SDSU? Western wing?) that makes the AAC the undisputed 6th best league.
  • Lack of TV money will hurt, but the whole TV and conference landscape could and probably will change more in the next 5-10 years than it did in the last 50. By the time 2025 rolls around, the AAC could have a deal with ESPN, and a deal with Netflix or Twitter. Nobody knows what things are going to look like.
  • One thing is for sure with decentralization (cord cutting) of programming – the days of Iowa State making the same Tier 1 money as Texas and Oklahoma, appear to be numbered.
  • My point: the Big XII is about as stable as the BIG EAST was when Memphis was trying to get on board there.  Not very. This is crushing news in the short term, but long term it’s not the death blow some people will make it out to be.

Thoughts on Rothstein / Smith Interview

I have a few quick thoughts on a very good interview / podcast that Tubby Smith recently did with Jon Rothstein:

  • Perhaps it’s attributable to his age, but it’s nice to have a coach who isn’t determined to give canned answers to interview questions in order to promote an agenda.
  • It’s been a while on that front for Memphis fans. For nearly a decade, John Calipari turned every interview into an opportunity to promote his cause du jour.
  • At least Calipari was entertaining. Josh Pastner, clearly trying to emulate Calipari, tried the same pre-packaged approach for the past 7 years, but with far less success.
  • Pastner’s interviews were hellish to listen to because (a) he’s not nearly as gifted an orator, and (b) he stopped winning as much.
  • Tubby is familiarizing himself with the roster and seems cautiously, though genuinely positive about the roster he might have in the Fall (assuming D. Lawson stays).
  • On Dedric Lawson: “If Dedric comes back, we’re gonna have some good, solid players.”
  • Tubby did indicate he is planning as if Dedric will be on the roster, but will be prepared for any circumstance.
  • He did acknowledge the lack of depth and the need to add more pieces in 2016.
  • The first player Tubby mentioned, without Rothstein even asking? PG Jeremiah Martin.
  • On Martin:“We have a young man, who was a Freshman, will be Sophomore this year, who we think can really help us a lot in Jeremiah Martin.”
  • Perhaps in Martin, Tubby sees a potential floor general. One of the maddening aspects of the last few years was that Josh Pastner never developed a true PG.
  • On Sophomore Forward Nick Marshall: “Big guy, takes up a lot of space inside. In workouts, he’s moved extremely well. He’s worked pretty hard, and done a good job.”
  • On incoming JUCO F Jimario Rivers: “Pretty talented.”
  • Tubby said he’s impressed with the AAC, but also understands that Memphis is positioned to try and move up in conference realignment.
  • Overall, it’s good to be excited about Tiger basketball again.

Debate Regarding Lawsons Lacks Nuance

There are 2 prevailing takes on the Keelon / Dedric / KJ Lawson situation brewing over at the University of Memphis.

Take # 1: Tubby Smith screwed up. He’s out of touch. He should have given Keelon what he wanted and kept the Lawsons. Without the Lawsons, the Tigers are going to be terrible. The sky is falling.

Take # 2: Screw the Lawsons. Keelon is exploiting his sons. Tubby should let them walk. Tubby has character, he shouldn’t compromise his values to ‘play ball.’ 

Spare me either of these takes, please.

Both have a hint of truth, but are ultimately distortions that lack nuance.

Let me acknowledge that if I had to lean towards one of these takes, I might favor the former. It would have been nice for this situation not to exist at all, and presumably it could have been avoided had Tubby Smith just made Keelon Lawson an assistant.

And I don’t buy the exploitation story either. An assistant’s job is to get players and nepotism is encouraged in college basketball. After all, the Memphis staff is very likely to include Tubby’s son, Saul.

On the other hand, shouldn’t we all keep in mind that 2 days before Tubby was hired Dedric Lawson announced that he was returning to school? Presumably, this left Smith with the impression that he had some flexibility in precisely how he was going to assemble his staff, even if Keelon had been assured a spot.

To that point, Gary Parrish of CBS Sports has confirmed that there were assurances made to Keelon before Smith’s hire was announced. One can assume there was miscommunication, but shouldn’t Keelon understand that though his spot was guaranteed the new coach ought to decide who handles which specific roles?

I guess not.

And then the Lawsons went public with their discontent.

Which leaves Tubby little room to maneuver. At this point, if Smith hires Lawson, it might undermine his credibility within his program and within the community.

I’m not sure it will do that (undermine his credibility), but it might.

Which lends credence to Take # 2. Let em’ walk. 

So my take is that I’ll be cool with whatever Tubby decides to do at this point.

If he finds a way to keep the Lawsons, that’s great. If he lets them walk, I’m cool with that too.

Nuance.

But if he chooses #2, he needs to quickly go find some other dudes.

On Tubby’s Staff

I spoke with someone this morning who was very close to one of Tubby Smith’s former programs. He had some interesting things to say.

He got to know Tubby well and said he’s “truly a great person.”

Like everyone else, he recognizes the good fit:

“Memphis is much easier to win at than Minnesota and Texas Tech.”

He also echoes the other narratives about this hire:

“There is no better representative of the program than Tubby, he’s as good of a person as you’ll find at this level, but it’s a concern if he still has the passion and fire in the belly.”

Regarding the staff, he had some interesting things to say:

“If he brings Vince Taylor, Saul Smith (Tubby’s son) or Joe Esposito it’s a bad sign. If he hires local Memphis guys who are great recruiters then you’ll be in good shape.”

“Vince is a great guy and the best recruiter of the three, but he’s not the relentless recruiter Tubby needs. Saul has been in over his head from the get go and had some off the court issues, and Esposito is way over his head as an assistant. Hire a couple of well connected AAU guys from the area and Tubby will have the program turned around quickly.”

So again, this is an exciting hire for Memphis – but Memphis fans should pay close attention to what Tubby Smith does with his staff before they start blocking off dates for future Final Fours.

Cautiously Optimistic About Tubby Smith

USA Today sportswriter and former Commercial Appeal Tiger beat writer Dan Wolken broke the news today that the University of Memphis is zeroing in on Tubby Smith to replace Josh Pastner as the head men’s basketball coach. The deal could be done as soon as today:

Initial Reaction.

First off, let’s not breeze past the fact that Tubby Smith is likely going to be in the Naismith Hall of Fame at some point. After replacing Rick Pitino, Smith coached Kentucky to a National Title, and then 3 more Elite 8 appearances.

His Kentucky legacy is obviously overshadowed by Rick Pitino and John Calipari, but he had a solid run there. Even after he ran out of Pitino’s players, he guided the 2002-2003 Wildcat squad to 32 wins and an Elite 8 following an undefeated SEC regular season. 2 years before he left for Minnesota, Smith finished with 28 wins and guided the Cats to another Elite 8 performance.

Tubby Smith may not have been up to Kentucky standards, but he wasn’t Billy Gillespie either.

He also went to the NCAA Tournament as Georgia’s coach, as Tulsa’s coach, as Minnesota’s coach and as Texas Tech’s coach.

That’s a big deal.

Those are all pretty much coaching graveyards, and Tubby won at all of them. He took each of them to the NCAA tournament.

So what should we expect at Memphis?

Given that history, it should be expected that Tubby Smith will win at Memphis. He’ll go to the NCAA tournament. He’ll presumably have well coached teams (though I can’t honestly say I know much about his style of play).

He’ll run a clean program, not that Memphis fans really care about that.

Memphis in the AAC is not relative exactly to Kentucky in the SEC, but it’s closer to the best job in its league than the other spots Smith has coached. Way closer.

I expect that Smith, if he can find a way to get talent to Memphis, will restore excitement and optimism at Memphis.

Does that mean Sweet 16’s? Elite 8’s? Final Fours?

My best answer to that is it depends on what kind of talent he can accumulate.

Recruiting, Recruiting, Recruiting.

So ultimately, this will come down to whether or not Smith can recruit well. A source close to one of Smith’s former program’s told me that he is a “very lazy recruiter.” I’ve seen others say that while that’s true, he’s a good closer.

This necessitates a sound plan to support Smith with some player-getters. Perhaps a coach in waiting (Smith will be 65 this year) like Penny Hardaway? Perhaps someone like Tony Madlock on staff?

Obviously the news that Dedric Lawson is coming back will help. Perhaps Keelon Lawson will stick around to deliver the youngest Lawson.

I don’t care what the plan is, but there better be a plan. I assume there is.

Something Different.

Memphis hasn’t hired a coach like Tubby Smith in my lifetime. John Calipari was just as accomplished, but he had baggage. Josh Pastner was unproven. Both were upwardly mobile – and at first you feared they’d be moving along to the next stop. At the end, Memphis fans were praying Pastner would move along to the next stop.

Tubby Smith, if hired, is an elder statesman of the game. A Hall of Fame candidate, widely respected throughout the industry. A solid pro who will surely be coming to his final stop.

Memphis is a place where maybe Smith can put the capstone on a wonderful career by achieving the same levels of success he saw over a decade ago in Lexington. Perhaps that’s a stretch, but it’s kind of exciting.

It’s a far cry from where we were a week ago.

Race and Gravitas Matter.

And let’s not ignore the racial reality of this hire.

There was no imperative to hire an African American coach. Memphis fans of all races prioritize winning over anything else. Memphis basketball has always done more to unite races in the city than to divide them (though the Larry Finch saga was certainly a strain).

That being said, Memphis needs to hire a coach that can inspire local talent to stay at home and thrive at home. Josh Pastner failed in that regard.

I think Tubby Smith could succeed in that area, and not just because he happens to be African American.

Smith was one of 17 children born to sharecroppers.  He gradually worked his way up the coaching ladder and has now had a 25 year basketball coaching career with great success. I can imagine him inspiring and motivating young, talented Memphis basketball players to play with passion in a way that Josh Pastner never did.

For that reason especially, I’m optimistic.

 

On Gary Parrish, OJ Simpson, Buzz Williams and dannyb73

When the University of Memphis finally hires a basketball coach (dear God please make it today) Gary Parrish will probably be the guy to break the story.

Parrish, a national CBS columnist but local radio host, knows the candidates and the committee. He’s the guy plugged into what’s happening.

So naturally I’m listening to every word he says on the radio as this search drags on.

On Tuesday afternoon, Parrish pulled an OJ Simpson.

No, he didn’t cut anyone’s head off.

But he did utilize a rhetorical trick similar to what Simpson did when he published the book “If I did It: Confessions of the Killer” in which Simpson allegedly puts forth a “hypothetical” description of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

Parrish used the same trick on Tuesday.

“People keep asking me two questions. What would you do if you were heading the University of Memphis search and what do you think the University of Memphis is actually doing? Now, those two things aren’t necessarily the same thing, but they could be. They could be exactly the same thing.”

Parrish said it with a playfulness that indicated he knew something.

He then went on to describe what he would do.

What he would do is offer Buzz Williams (Virginia Tech coach and presumed top candidate if Gregg Marshall is in fact unavailable) the exact same contract he currently has at Virginia Tech, except with financial raises. Put that contract in front of Buzz and at least make him say no before moving on to other candidates.

Parrish went on to explain that he wasn’t sure Buzz would take the Memphis job, but felt certain he’d at least consider it.

Naturally, all night there were rumors that Memphis was in the process of offering Buzz Williams a contract.

It felt to me Parrish was channeling his inner OJ Simpson and actually knows something.

Of course, that’s assuming OJ Simpson actually killed those 2 people.

Everyone I know assumed OJ killed those 2 people, everyone except MemphisTigers.org poster dannyb73.

I know dannyb73 personally, and he always insisted OJ was innocent. Always.

I never got the feeling dannyb73 really believed that, but he always insisted it nonetheless, which brings me to my 2nd Gary Parrish story of the day. One that happened a few hours earlier.

I tuned into the Geoff Calkins show yesterday morning to hear him interview Parrish.

They were talking about 2nd tier candidates and the name Tad Boyle (Colorado coach) was being discussed.

“The name that started surfacing on social media last night was Tad Boyle. I guess it could be Tad Boyle. I wouldn’t understand the fit for him or for The University of Memphis, but that is a name that started popping on social media pretty randomly and I don’t think somebody just invented Tad Boyle out of nowhere.”

Parrish and Calkins went on to talk about Boyle for the next several minutes and Parrish, though clearly skeptical of the sourcing, reinforced the validity of the rumor.

“Somebody heard that from somebody.”

Wrong, Gary.

Nobody heard it from anybody. Somebody did invent Tad Boyle out of nowhere.

That person? dannyb73

How do I know?  He told me.

That’s right.  The same guy who convinced me he thought OJ didn’t do it, convinced a national columnist he knew what he was talking about, though that wasn’t his intent necessarily.

He was just messing with some dudes. It’s what dannyb73 does for fun.

Allow him to explain:

“There’s so many keyboard tough guys (on MemphisTigers.org) and they’re going to refute anything you say whether it’s true or not. Everybody plays tough guy on there – it’s negative 3/4 of the time and they’re gonna bash you – and so turnabout is fair play.”

This is what happens when national columnists read message boards, or talk to people who read message boards.

And I’m not bashing Parrish here. I realize Parrish knows a lot more about what’s happening than he’s allowed to say. Since he can’t break the confidentiality of his sources, Parrish is left to fill radio time talking about message board rumors.

And when that fails, to employ the OJ Simpson hypothetical.

Either way, I’ll be tuning into every word Parrish says again today – because his “hypothetical” scenarios have more basis in reality than anything else out there – unless dannyb73 is involved.

 

 

 

Some Rules to Live By When Evaluating 2nd Tier Candidates

Gary Parrish is as connected as anyone, certainly anyone in Memphis, when it comes to College Basketball coaching searches. On his radio show Monday, Parrish made it clear that Gregg Marshall likely isn’t coming to Memphis. Bruce Pearl, Buzz Williams – also probably not coming.

As most schools do, Memphis will wind up choosing a basketball coach from a “next tier” of candidates. In Memphis’ case that “next” tier of candidates equates to dudes that for one reason or another, can be lured from their current school to work for a salary of approximately $2.5m per year.

This is assuming Memphis wants a sitting or former head coach – which they most certainly should want in light of how the whole Pastner era unfolded.

Not that it matters what I think, but I’m fine with that. I think Memphis can make a good hire for roughly the same money they were paying Josh Pastner.

That being said, there are some rules I suggest living by when shopping from this particular zone of candidates. They are as follows:

  1. Don’t hire a dude that’s in the habit of losing 10+ games almost every single year. Example: Andy Kennedy. Kennedy has coached 11 years in college basketball. He’s lost more than 10 games in all but one of those seasons. That’s not great. I’m a big believer in past performance being a somewhat reliable indicator of future outcomes. So while I think Kennedy would connect with the Memphis fan base, recruit well and be an upgrade over Josh Pastner, I prefer dudes whose record will inspire greater dreams.
  2. Don’t hire a coach that routinely misses the NCAA tournament. Example: Kermit Davis. Again, see above statement regarding past performance. And I recognize that qualifying for the NCAA tournament is more difficult in some leagues than others, but consider this: Kermit Davis coached an entire decade at MTSU (2002 – 2012) before qualifying for the NCAA tournament. He also lost at least 12 games each of those years. That’s a prolonged run of futility. Sure, he turned it on the last few years, and that’s great – but I’m too big a believer in these 2 rules to roll the dice on a guy like this.
  3. Hire a coach whose experience allows you to reasonably dream that he’ll succeed at a very high level. This is almost the converse of the two rules above – but it’s important.  Let’s call it the “plausible case for excellence” rule. It further disqualifies Davis, and to a lesser extent Kennedy.
  4. Hire a coach that has some familiarity / history with the Memphis program. Call this the “good vibe” rule.

Essentially you want a coach that understands your program, might be really good and doesn’t clearly suck (again, those are repetitive, but important).

These rules also cast doubt on the respective candidacies of Lorenzo Romar, Brad Brownell, and Mike Anderson (to a lesser degree) all of whom have been discussed as possible candidates. Apart from one really good season at Missouri, Anderson’s career has been remarkably unremarkable since leaving UAB 10 years ago.

So who does this leave?

Parrish said Kelvin Sampson was in a group of guys Memphis could hire “in 30 minutes.”

Well if that’s the case then that’s a hell of a good backup plan. In his last 10 full seasons of coaching College Basketball, Sampson has lost less than 10 games 7 times. He went to 7 NCAA tournaments during that span as well. In 2 short years, he’s upgraded the Houston program tremendously. Sampson’s downside is the NCAA trouble he’s been in in the past regarding illegal contact with recruits, but those issues seem resolved, especially since the NCAA has subsequently loosened restrictions regarding such contact.

Former Memphis beat writer Mike Decourcey apparently suggested that Nevada coach and former Memphis Grizzlies Assistant Eric Mussleman could be a candidate. Side note: I say “apparently” because even though I had been a huge and vocal fan of Decourcey, he blocked me on Twitter for correctly pointing out that he was peddling an implausible realignment story which was clearly planted to further his hometown school’s (Cincinnati) case for P5 inclusion. So now I don’t typically read his stuff unless someone else re-tweets him. 

Parrish also included Musselman in  the “30 second” group, implying that he’s gettable. Mussleman doesn’t have enough of a track record in college to violate the 2 initial rules above regarding losing records and he comes with the added bonus of some NBA head coaching experience (with the hometown Grizzlies), which reinforces the plausible case for excellence.

So for unique reasons, I like Mussleman.

While I was looking, I came across a few “2nd tier” ideas that don’t  violate the rules:

BYU’s Dave Rose is 283-99 in 11 years as a college coach, and played at the University of Houston during the famed Phi Slamma Jamma era, meaning he’s familiar with the Memphis program. Perhaps he could be lured away from BYU given that he’s from Houston originally. Rose’s current salary isn’t public.

You wouldn’t think John Thompson III will ever leave Georgetown, but the popular Casual Hoya blog is openly speculating that maybe the Hoyas should make a change – so it’s possible that Memphis could pluck him away. Does Thompson III violate the rules enunciated here?

In 12 years at Georgetown, Thompson III has missed the NCAA 4 times, and he’s lost more than 10 games 8 times. I’m OK with those numbers, especially given that most of that time was spent in the impossibly hard version of the BIG EAST conference.

Thompson III makes a lot of money and his family is legendary in DC, but perhaps his recent struggles make him a good candidate for the Memphis job.

Just a thought, but I’d be exploring it before I threw money at candidates whom I can’t plausibly believe can be excellent.

 

 

Is Today the Day?

I remember exactly where I was when Dana Kirk was fired.

I cried when Larry Finch coached his last game.

I watched the John Calipari introductory press conference in giddy disbelief.

I was sitting in class when I got a Blackberry message that Memphis had struck a deal with Josh Pastner.

Memphis isn’t a school that changes basketball coaches all that often – essentially 4 transitions in the last 30 years.

The next transition appears to be happening today.

Be Thankful to Pastner

Memphis fans are grateful for a new start, and they should be. But they should also take a moment to be grateful to Pastner for what he did here.

No established coaches wanted to follow Calipari. Not only was his win loss record intimidating, but the school was facing NCAA probation (the fans didn’t know it, but I’m guessing those in the coaching community might have).

Additionally, don’t forget that Memphis was still rotting away in CUSA at the time – behind schools like Houston and UCF in terms of a workable exit strategy (i.e. a viable football program).

Pastner came in and piled up the recruiting victories. Though he never won at a level that satisfied Memphis fans, his 2nd and 3rd teams were on the cusp of post-season breakthroughs. A better draw in the NCAA tournament and maybe this whole conversation, this whole era, is different.

But that’s over now and Memphis fans should simply say thank you to a man that kept their program relevant and competitive in the immediate aftermath of Calipari.

And in the biggest understatement of the day, let’s also pause briefly to acknowledge that Josh Pastner has been a terrific part of the Memphis community. He’ll be missed on that front by thousands.

What’s Next?

Now, on to the fun part. If indeed Pastner is gone, to whom will Memphis turn?

Here are some ideas:

Everyone says start with Marshall and make him say no. Seems right to me. Marshall has a history of turning down great jobs for good jobs. He stayed at Winthrop for a while and then finally jumped to….Wichita State? He’s a weird guy – maybe he fits at Memphis. Some seem to think so. That would be a home run.

I have other ideas as well, and I’m not sure how I feel about all of them but they seem somewhat realistic.

Gravitas needed.

My list is heavy on older, more established coaches because I think that’s what Memphis needs in the aftermath of Pastner.

I don’t think hiring Penny makes sense unless he’s groomed. Maybe Jim Calhoun wants to work for 2 or 3 years. He seems to be in good health and is younger than Larry Brown. He’s the approximate age of Coach K, and Boeheim. People will make fun of me for pushing this one, but I don’t care. I like the idea even if it’s a long shot.

If you’re going to go with youth – Archie Miller seems like a great idea too, and perhaps realistic.

Steve Forbes is a reasonably safe backup. Completely do-able if everyone else falls through.

This Better Happen

Now that the news has broken, Pastner better get the Georgia Tech job. Memphis fans were apathetic before. If Pastner somehow doesn’t get the Tech job at this point, they’ll be apoplectic.

Charge your phones and get your Twitter ready – gonna be an exciting day (hopefully).