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.


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 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 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).


Prominent Big 12 Columnist: “Memphis is a non-starter”

Lots of rumors floating around Memphis the last few months that Memphis is a strong candidate for Big XII expansion, which is almost certain to take place in a few months.

I’m not getting my hopes up, and one of the prominent journalists in the heart of Big XII country gave me another reason to remain skeptical.

According to Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman, Memphis is a “non-starter” for the Big XII.

In his weekly online chat, I asked Tramel about fan speculation that BYU, Boise, Cincinnati and Memphis could be added in order to bring the conference membership to 14 before adding a conference championship game and conference network.

Tramel had some harsh words to describe Memphis’ chances:

“Way down the list.”

He was not as harsh regarding the other candidates:

“Now, Connecticut is a different story. You put UConn and BYU into a Big 12 Network, and you’ve got a lot of eyeballs. Cincy and Boise State would be fine, too. But not Memphis. No football fan base. None at all.”

Someone should let Tramel know Memphis averaged over 43,802 per home game at the Liberty Bowl last year – a 29% increase from 2014 and higher than at least a dozen so called “Power 5” programs.

Also more than BYU, Boise, and Cincinnati and at least one current Big XII member (Kansas). But who’s counting?

Nevertheless, it’s always advisable to understand that when it comes to expansion rumors – those of the homegrown variety should be taken with a grain of salt.



Josh Pastner is Going to be Just Fine (& Other Thoughts)


Diving right into my thoughts about Tiger basketball – including why people don’t need to feel bad for Josh Pastner, the program’s complex “issues” regarding the head coach position, and where to go from here…

Not as Sad as You Think

At this point, literally everyone I talk to about Tiger Basketball agrees that it would be best if the program had new leadership.

And almost everyone agrees that’s a sad conclusion to make – because they all like Josh Pastner.

But maybe we shouldn’t feel so bad, especially in light of the circumstances. First of all, Memphis has made Pastner a very wealthy man. Whenever his reign as head of the men’s program comes to an end, Pastner will have cashed in the neighborhood of $20 million in checks. The guy has a lot of mouths to feed, but that’s a lot of cheese so the Pastners should be ok.

He’s also had a chance to build his resume – and will be highly employable.

Regardless of the condition of the Tiger program currently, Pastner has accomplished a lot in Memphis. His reputation as a relentless recruiter is still in tact, which should put him in line to land an elite assistant job if he’s willing to take a step back. This happens all the time. See Jeff Capel at Duke for example.

And lets not forget that Pastner has had exclusively winning seasons, 6 of them heading into this year, all while playing by NCAA rules. Surely some lower profile schools will have interest in hiring him if and when Memphis parts ways.

Pastner might also be attractive to an NBA franchise looking for an assistant coach. NBA benches are often occupied with former college coaches with less success under their belts than Pastner. Jeff Bzdelik, for example, is currently cashing checks from the Memphis Grizzlies and he once had 6 losing seasons in a row as a college coach.

Bottom line – a lot of employers in the industry would be satisfied with a guy like Josh Pastner.

But Memphis fans are now hoping that David Rudd (President, UofM) and Tom Bowen (Athletic Director) are employers with a different mindset.

As Memphis fans await that decision, they should understand that Rudd and Bowen don’t have the historical context that they (Memphis fans) posses.

A History of Contradictions

After all, neither Rudd nor Bowen was at Memphis when John Calipari led the program to 4 consecutive 30-win seasons (and deep NCAA runs) in a row from 2005-2009. And neither was in the Bluff City in the immediate aftermath when Memphis basketball’s decades long “character problems” were again exposed.

Neither was around when Josh Pastner’s Good Samaritan persona first took the city by storm.

And that’s really what all this is about, isn’t it? What makes this situation so difficult is that Memphis basketball is built upon some troubling contradictions that have come to define the head coaching position at the school, if not the program itself.

These contradictions, or issues, go back further than I do.

In 1973 Memphians celebrated an NCAA finalist led by a local hero, Larry Finch, who went on to lead the program as head coach. The popular story is that the 1973 team helped heal a racially divided city – but keep in mind the story didn’t actually end until 25 years later when the program turned its back on the hero in a racially divisive manner.

Finch as head coach during my childhood (1986-1997) was in some ways a precursor to Josh Pastner. Well liked, did things the right way, but didn’t have a style pleasing to a majority of the fan base and ultimately didn’t win enough.

Sound familiar?

Finch won a lot (2 Sweet 16s / 1 Elite 8  / 8, 20 win seasons in 11 years) but he never got to the Final 4 and starting losing local recruits due to pervasive negativity and a perception that the program was languishing under his leadership.

Sound familiar?

It didn’t matter that Finch had cleaned up a program that under Kirk had tattered NCAA rules, broken federal laws, and had such little interest in educating its minority players that the NAACP called for the coach’s removal. The bottom line was that the fan base eroded greatly under Finch, so he was gone – unceremoniously asked to sign his buyout at a hot dog stand after a home game.

After hiring Tic Price, which was a complete debacle, Memphis was thoroughly desperate for a winner.

Enter John Calipari.

Enter 30-win seasons, night club fights, Sweet 16 appearances, allegations of fraudulent SAT tests, Final 4 appearances, failed drug tests, #1 rankings, domestic abuse arrests.

NCAA probation.

Enter Josh Pastner, and now everything has come full circle.


The Lesson

So what’s the lesson here? That Memphis basketball will settle for nothing less than Final 4 level success, even if it takes criminal activity or at the very least academic fraud to achieve it?

Yes, that’s exactly the lesson. That’s why the first name that folks throw out when they dream about Pastner’s replacement is Auburn Coach and famed cheater Bruce Pearl.

Let’s go get the dirtiest guy available!

But college basketball is different these days. Cheating in recruiting has become SOP. Everyone does it systematically, including probably Pastner’s Memphis program. Assistant coaches do the dirty work and take the fall. Head coaches skate.

Every other aspect of the industry has also become standard. Academic “support staffs” make the graduation rates look pretty. Basketball programs look more like departments in a Fortune 100 company.

This isn’t the 1980’s.

In 2016, the dividing line is less about cheating and more about resources. We’re talking ‘Power 5’ vs. ‘Group of 5’ distinctions.

So Pearl probably isn’t leaving Auburn for Memphis.

And Memphis, in the aftermath of Pastner, doesn’t necessarily have a clear direction to go.

What Next?

If money were no object, Memphis would go after Wichita State’s Greg Marshall or Dayton’s Archie Miller. These are the best coaches outside the “Power 5.” Everyone is going to want these guys. Both have “elite” written all over them and would almost certainly succeed at Memphis.

Would they come?

Hard to say, but probably not even though Marshall has historically preferred schools outside the limelight.

First off, the financial thing has to be figured out and I don’t have those answers. Secondly, does Memphis under Bowen and Rudd still consider itself a basketball school? Clearly football is a priority, as it should be with conference realignment in mind. Like it or not, life in the ‘Group of 5’ will probably prevent Memphis from hiring one of these guys.

Should Memphis try a proven coach who’s had success at a lower level? Guys like Brad Underwood (Stephen F. Austin), or Tim Cluess (Iona). Both are guys that got their first opportunity at an older age and might relish the Memphis job. There’s plenty of other guys out there at the mid-major level (Pearl’s former top assistant Steve Forbes is now coaching at ETSU), but hiring them is like taking a shot in the dark.

Hiring a mid-major is a shot in the dark. You could get Dana Kirk (came from VCU) or you could get Tic Price (came from New Orleans).

Or Memphis could turn within and look to guys with deep knowledge of the program. Some have suggested Penny Hardaway. Derek Kellogg at UMass would be a possibility and Damon Stoudamire is already on the payroll. The Pastner experiment has suppressed everyone’s appetite for guys with zero track record in the main chair.

Then there’s the retread option. Larry Eustachy, Tim Floyd. Maybe Mike Anderson, who has basically failed at Arkansas, could be persuaded to finally take the Memphis job. A dozen more guys like that are out there that would be intrigued by Memphis, but none of them get the blood pumping.

Here’s an idea that checks a lot of boxes:  Hire Manhattan’s Steve Masiello.

He’s won some games, learned under Rick Pitino, and already has an ethics fiasco under his belt. He lied on his resume a few years back – which cost him the South Florida job.

That seems to be the perfect mixture for the Memphis job at this point, and at any point over the past 40 years.



Super Bowl Party Manifesto

Super Bowl parties are quickly heading the way of New Year’s Eve in popular culture, obligatory national celebrations that are hackneyed and overrated. But what are you gonna do, sit at home?


So because you’re inevitably going to attend or host a Super Bowl party, here are some essential guidelines to follow in order to maximize your experience.

Tips for hosting a good Super Bowl party:

Plan according to the amount of space you have. I’m not here to judge – a good Super Bowl party can be held in a tiny apartment or a mansion. That being said, if you have one TV and six seats don’t invite 30 people. I don’t want to have to hold my pee til halftime worried my seat is going to get snaked as soon as I get up. By the same token, if you have six TV rooms and a media room with twelve reclining movie theater seats don’t have four people at your party, it’s depressing.

Don’t mess up the food situation. This is not the sole responsibility of the host, but you should provide a good base. Three or four solid offerings, let’s say a cheese and cracker spread with minimum three types of cheese, some type of meat, could be chicken wings, could be pulled pork sandwiches, could be meatballs, doesn’t really matter. Then one lighter fare type item, maybe a vegetable spread with dips, something to make people feel slightly less glutinous. Then, coordinate with your guests to make sure there’s not a ton of overlap. You can’t have Susie and Natalie both bringing their famous buffalo chicken dip. Things could get ugly if one dish gets all the love.

Offer your guests some kind of gambling opportunity. Squares are pretty much the go-to, easiest thing here.  Make sure you collect up front though, the drunker and fuller your guests get the more likely they are to ghost early and leave you short.

Diversify according to interest level. If you have the space, have at least two rooms for viewing: one for serious “watchers” of the game and another for more casual observers and chatters. If I’ve got way more money on the game than I should, I really don’t wanna hear about Steve’s cross-fit routines or Lily’s kid’s summer plans.

Tips for guests:

Speaking of kids, uhh, can we keep them to a minimum? Kids are great, especially if they belong to you, but this isn’t a birthday party with a moon bounce. This is a disgusting bloated American holiday where we celebrate violence, brain damage, gambling, intoxication and overindulgence. Hire a babysitter.

Please, enough already with evaluating every commercial. This is the nadir of the Super Bowl Party. Invariably some time around the middle of the second quarter someone will say, “Gee is it me or are the commercials just not as good this year?” I guess fifteen years ago the Super Bowl was the only time of year advertising agencies really tried, and therefore some Super Bowl commercials really stood out. But now they try all year round, so we can stop giving a shit about Super Bowl commercials, okay? YouTube them the next day if you really care, but spare the rest of us.

Other Do’s and Don’ts:

Do make fun of every dumb thing Phil Simms says.

Do not party hop, pick one and stick to it.

Do bring something, but don’t half ass it and bring a bag of chips or ice, unless specifically requested to.

Don’t bring booze and then take home what’s left.

If you’re at a majority fan of one team party and you’re rooting for the other team, keep it to yourself, don’t be obnoxious.

Finally, do invite me to your party, I’m non judgmental and a great time.

To Penny Or Not To Penny?

Speculation flew around Memphis today that Penny Hardaway could potentially be tapped to be the next Tigers basketball coach. Our resident bloggers Scott Hirsch and Jay Brenner debate the idea here….

Scott:  Penny Hardaway should be the next coach of Memphis Basketball. The clearest reason for this is that it would re-energize the fan base. Fan morale is, if not at an all time low, a two decade low. The stands are empty and no one has any confidence left in Josh Pastner, not even @roll1697, who was previously the last Pastner defender standing. Anyone near my age or older, and probably lots of people younger, are going to be pretty fired up if Penny is announced as the new coach.

Secondly, it’s hard to argue that Penny wouldn’t be able to recruit well.  He has great Nike ties, he’s been involved in the AAU scene and his name still resonates. Certainly in the city of Memphis he’s a legend and it would be hard to imagine any high profile Memphis recruits not wanting to play for him.

Third, what exactly would the other options be? Bruce Pearl ain’t coming. You could promote Stoudamire, and that might work out great, but it might not. Otherwise we’re probably talking about a relative unknown taking over a program on the precipice of irrelevance.

Penny has expressed an interest in coaching college. Though it’s definitely a big risk that could backfire terribly, ya know like the one they took hiring a 32 year old assistant. But when you look at the other options it’s hard to see one that’s a better fit and has the same potential to be a home run. Hopefully he could assemble an experienced staff full of people who fill in his gaps, the thing Pastner wasn’t willing to do. Mostly, it’d be fun as hell. Lets do it!

Jay:  Well, you said it in your last paragraph when you referenced how big a risk hiring Penny would be, but to illustrate that point more clearly I’ll give you four words: Clyde “The Glide” Drexler. When Houston Cougar basketball was spiraling towards irrelevance in the 1990’s they hired Drexler, an alum with legendary status on campus. He completely tanked. The Cougars went 19-39 in his 2 years and he was replaced. Word on the street was that “The Glide” was more interested in being on “The Golf Course” than on “The Practice Floor.” Hardaway, who is probably just as wealthy or wealthier than Drexler is also an avid golfer. My point being – does this guy really want to work that hard?

I acknowledge that hiring Penny Hardaway would fire up everyone who loves Memphis, including myself. At this point the program just needs something different, but the truth is being a head college basketball coach in 2016 is more akin to being the C.E.O. of a small business. In other words, it’s not the kind of job you hand to someone with no experience in the specific industry.

Sure, Hardaway knows the game, but is he ready to handle all the ancillary responsibilities that come along with running a multi-million dollar operation? He would have to hire and supervise a staff, handle media appearances, coordinate recruiting, player development, and discipline. This isn’t just holding a press conference and then coaching games. I think Penny Hardaway would probably be a good floor coach, but I could see him getting swallowed up by the other responsibilities associated with the position.

Also, I just think hiring Penny Hardaway reeks of desperation.  Actually, it’s not a thought, it’s a fact. If Memphis buys out Josh Pastner’s $10m contract they’ll be desperate to find someone on the cheap. Perhaps Penny would do it for less than market value, but then that raises the concerns even further about how much he’d devote to all the behind-the-scenes aspects of the job.

Bottom line, I’d be way more inclined to hire someone with coaching experience. Heck, if I wanted a low-cost option I’d look at hiring a crusty old-timer that might jump at a higher profile gig. There are guys that have appreciation for the history of Memphis basketball like Tim Floyd or Larry Eustachy who might do very well here connecting with the fan base. Here’s an outside the box option – maybe you could convince Jim Calhoun to try the Larry Brown septuagenarian coaching plan? Perhaps Penny (or Stoudamire) could be his coach in waiting and learn the industry? That’s a plan I could get behind.

Scott:  Tim Floyd and Larry Eustachy? Holy buzz kill. That doesn’t reek of desperation that reeks of resignation. As to Calhoun, come on, get real. Maybe we can dig up Red Auerbach and see if he wants the job. You’re right though, we are desperate, no sense pretending we aren’t.

As to the Clyde Drexler comparison, I’m not sure that’s fair. Lots of coaches like to play golf. And Penny is coaching high school right now, which seems to indicate a more than passing interest in coaching. Whether or not he’s up to the job, we really don’t know. But being a CEO is exactly what I think he’d be good at. Hire a tactician, an ace recruiter, and let Penny close recruits, glad hand boosters and get kids to buy into his message or philosophies.

Drexler counterpoint is Hoiberg, the mayor. Zero coaching experience and that worked out pretty well.

If the choice is between washed up re-treads, young nobodies, or Penny, gimme number 25 in your hearts every time. Let’s do this!

Jay:  Not to get too detailed, but Hoiberg worked in an NBA front office before he got the Iowa State job. According to Wiki he even spent some time on the Timberwolves coaching staff after retiring from the NBA. He was around high level basketball people and working for a living. Penny has been coaching middle school for the past few years. It’s a resume that inspires less confidence. And again I’d point to motivation, Hoiberg didn’t make the kind of coin Penny did in his playing career. The dude has to work for a living, Penny almost certainly doesn’t.

As for Jim Calhoun, I’ll admit I have an unhealthy obsession with over the hill basketball coaches, but keep in mind he’s 2 years younger than SMU head coach Larry Brown – and I’d take the results the Mustangs have gotten the past few years (aside of course from that NCAA probation). I’ve heard rumors Calhoun wants to coach again so perhaps he’d be tempted by the idea of competing in UConn’s league at a school with Memphis’ pedigree. Also, the guy has 3 championship rings. You probably wouldn’t get him cheap, so it’s a silly conversation but I think Memphis could do a lot worse than giving him a 5 year contract with a coach in waiting.

I’m also a little afraid that if the Penny Hardaway thing went south it could end up toxic, like the Larry Finch situation 20 years ago. How do you fire a legend? Not at a hot dog stand. Memphis can’t afford more acrimony around the basketball program. It would have to go really well for it to work.

So again, I’d get on board with Penny, but if I’m Tom Bowen or a booster tasked with this decision I’m looking at (a) current head coaches that would jump at the opportunity to work at Memphis and that (b) have an understanding and appreciation of the Tiger fan base. A past history of high level success would be nice too. I’m willing to go outside the box for dudes like that and less likely to do so for guys that have never coached at the college level.


Tiger Basketball YouTube gems (ETSU, 1991)

Tuesday night’s win over Temple aside, we’re in the middle of another garbage Josh Pastner season.

All the hallmarks are present.

Compete hard but lose against a few really good teams, thus engendering some excitement? Check.

Disappointing efforts and eventual losses to inferior competition? Check.

Inconsistent execution and strange, sudden changes to the rotation? Check.

Disciplinary issues and suspicious injuries and illnesses? Check.

Cliched recycled answers in post game interviews? Check.

Because we are in the middle of another basically depressing season, I thought we should take a look at some YouTube gems and find an exciting Tiger game from the past.

Shout-out to @roll1697 for pointing out  a 1991 match-up between Memphis (Memphis State) and East Tennessee State University. Now, I should note that this particular season was not necessarily a more successful one than the current campaign. The Tigers finished only 17-15 and 7-7 in the Metro Conference. Luckily for Larry Finch, Penny Hardaway would show up the next year to extend his tenure several years.  Nevertheless, this game was extremely entertaining and well played.

Here are just a few reasons for you to watch this game on YouTube.

  1. There are two incredible individual performances in this game. Keith “Mister” Jennings was a 5’7 point guard for ETSU who was absolutely electric. Jennings made seemingly every play in this game, either with incredible passes or great shot making. He is a great, forgotten college basketball player. On the Memphis side, Elliot Perry was a one man team for Memphis State. He made something like 13 shots in a row down the stretch. I had forgotten how much of a shoot first guard he was. I’m not sure I saw him make a play for a teammate the whole game but that was quite alright because he got serious buckets. I believe both players ended up with 40 + points.
  2. This was a very well played and entertaining game. The pace was absolutely frenetic. There were very few half court possessions, but also very few turnovers and tons of great shot making – especially by ETSU, who was on fire for much of the game.
  3. The Tigers made a great, late second half comeback after trailing the whole game by double digits. It seemed like every time Memphis State made a run, ETSU had an answer. Memphis finally broke through late in the second half and the Coliseum crowd was LIT. I had forgotten how bonkers that place could get.
  4. The announcers are a gem. The YouTube video is of an ETSU feed, so it’s their local announcing team. They are homers, but not comically so. The color analyst has a thick southern accent and employs many amusing colloquialisms. These dudes became pretty apoplectic during the Memphis run. Let’s just say they didn’t like that the refs swallowed their whistles – it’s pretty amusing. They had a point, the refs seemed totally intimidated by the crowd. They also consistently refer to Jennings as either “Mister” or “The Mister” which I thoroughly enjoyed.  At one point they come back from the break and the camera is focused on an attractive woman in the crowd and the guy says, “There are a lot of pretty women in Memphis, Tennessee and that’s one of them.” Brent Musburger would be proud.

Looking back 25 years, here are some other random thoughts about this classic game:

    1. Billy Smith was absolute garbage in this game. I have no idea why he got so many minutes. He reminded me of a right handed K.J. Lawson in that he has absolutely no conscience and shoots the ball every time he touches it.
    2. College basketball seemed like more fun back then. Maybe it was just this game but the up and down, frenetic nature of the game was refreshing. There wasn’t much coaching interference, aka a bunch of timeouts to draw up plays that don’t work, etc. This was high level, skillful and entertaining, something that teams like Kansas and Kentucky (and a few others) can deliver, but that we don’t see consistently enough from CBB. Obviously some of that has to do with the fact that in this game the two best players were both Seniors.
    3. The 3pt point line wasn’t as big of a deal back then. ETSU actually took a bunch of 3’s but Memphis State attempted very few. There were also 3 lines on the court, a college one, international and an NBA line. It was a bit of an eye-sore.
    4. Todd Mundt was not terrible. I had forgotten that. I think I confuse him with Brett Mundt who was, in fact, terrible.

In summary, if you clicked on this article you’re probably kinda bored anyways, so go ahead and commit to the 1:15 it will take you to watch this classic College Basketball game. The video in part 1 starts off pretty rough but it improves.


Democrats Toying With Hillary (Again)

It can’t be happening again, can it?

Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for President in 2008 and again in 2016, is on her heels.

This time, by a 74-year old Jewish guy from Brooklyn named Bernie.

Oh, and Bernie just happens to be a Democratic Socialist.

So it makes perfect sense that he’s now running neck and neck with Clinton in Iowa, and ahead of her in New Hampshire – the first 2 states in which votes will be cast next month.

Or not.

8 years ago, everyone assumed that the Democrats would nominate Clinton and that she’d easily defeat whomever the GOP put forth to carry on the legacy of the Bush presidency. A legacy that had been torched, tattered, repudiated and torched again.

In 2008 the GOP had no shot. Hillary was going to be the first woman President….until Barack Obama came along.

That’s right, Barack Obama. The neophyte, mixed race politician with a Kenyan father and non-traditional name. Surely, such a bold candidate couldn’t beat Clinton – the uber successful Senator and wife of a popular, once-in-a-lifetime President politician.

But then he did (beat Clinton), even though it made no sense. After all, she was objectively more qualified.

Well, it made a little sense. Obama had Hope and Change and the fun logo and the youthful supporters and it was a movement and sure why not?

And don’t feel bad for Hillary, the Democrats said, we’ll let her do it next time.

Except now it’s next time and the Democrats don’t appear to be letting Hillary do it.

They appear to be lining up behind Sanders. Did I mention that he’s a Democratic Socialist who is proposing trillions in new spending including tuition-free college for all, and true universal healthcare?

Just checking.

Because once again the Democrats are discarding Hillary and it’s kind of hard to watch, regardless of how you feel about Hillary Clinton. Even if you hate Hillary, you have to admit it’s weird to watch what the Democrats are doing.

It’s like Lucy, Charlie Brown and the football.

Lucy is the Democrats, Charlie Brown is Hillary and I think you get the point.

It’s like that backup girlfriend or boyfriend that you think, someday we’ll date. Sure, we’re friends now, but one day we’ll hook up. One day the timing will be right. Except it never happens. Even though they are counting on it, they’re looking forward to it, they’re planning on it, they’re obsessed with it and you’ve promised it.

But it never happens.

It’s uncomfortable.

Do you know why it never happens? Because you don’t really want it to happen, that’s why. You just want to pretend it’s going to happen.

You don’t actually want it to happen.

For all their talk about how she has the depth of experience (Champion for Healthcare in the 1990’s, Senator from New York in the 2000’s, Secretary of State most recently), for all their talk about how between her and Bill Clinton, she was the one with the drive, the ambition, the killer instinct, the intellect – for all that talk – it appears Democrats just don’t like Hillary Clinton.

And don’t tell me it’s because she’s a stiff campaigner. So what? John Kerry was stiffer than an Iowa Spruce Tree in February and the Democrats nominated him for President over Howard Dean in 2004.

Dean was perhaps the least stiff candidate of all time.

And don’t tell me that it’s because she’s cozy with Wall Street, either. Barack Obama’s administration has presided over the implementation of Dodd-Frank, a financial reform bill widely considered to be feckless. Nevertheless, Democrats (judging from my Facebook wall) still see Obama as a cross between FDR / JFK and President Josiah Bartlett from The West Wing. 

They like the guy.

So Democrats probably need to stop lying to themselves about what makes Hillary unpalatable and just admit the fact that they don’t like her and that they don’t want her to be President.

They need to face that fact, because it’s starting to appear to be unquestionably true.

Is there a latent sexism in the country that doesn’t show up in polls (because it’s latent and nobody would admit it)?


All of this is going to make the next few months very interesting. Perhaps there’s going to be a quick change in feeling and the Democrats will unite behind Hillary. For this to happen, current momentum will have to be reversed.  Maybe it will.

Otherwise this election is about to get very awkward.


The Game of A Thousand Storylines

The National Championship Game Between Alabama and Clemson was a Sportswriter’s dream, a game of a thousand story lines.

The angles were everywhere, all you had to do is pick one.

There were the pre-game angles. Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney, the ‘Bama boy who played for Gene Stallings in 1992 as the Crimson Tide beat Miami in the Sugar Bowl to win a National Championship.

Swinney would now face off against his alma mater to try and win one as a coach. The Dabo backstory, of hardship, determination and triumph certainly got plenty of play in the lead up to the game.

So did the contrast in styles. Dabo the rah rah let’s dance after every win and B.Y.O.G. vs. the buttoned up, all business, ruthless football monster that is Nick Saban.

There was also potential symmetry.

Many people point to Bama’s 34-10 beat down of Clemson in 2008 as the beginning of the Saban dynasty. That game probably cost former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden his job and led to Dabo becoming interim, then full time head coach at Clemson. Would the Alabama dynasty end against the same team?

Once the game started, pre-game story lines faded to the background and the in game story lines and angles started to take shape.

Early on it was Derrick Henry, Alabama’s Heisman winner, bursting through the Clemson line on 3rd and short for a 50 yard TD run. The ‘Bama ground game dominates story line started to take shape. But it was quickly erased after Clemson QB Deshaun Watson promptly lead two TD drives capped off by incredible passes thrown into super tight windows.

New story: Electric mobile quarterback, Alabama’s kryptonite, takes over in biggest game. (Did you know that Nick Saban struggles with great mobile QB’s? Unlike other teams, which apparently just shut down great college quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel and Deshaun Watson.)

Or maybe the story was going to be that former Clemson walk on WR Hunter Renfrow dominated his match-up with 5 star, all-everything freshman Minkah Fitzpatrick.

I don’t see color so I’m not sure what race Renfrow is but let’s just say he has a ton of grit, is heady, plucky and has sneaky athleticism (might remind you of Wes Welker or Steve Largent).

As the game progressed the story line seemed to be that Alabama, who has built a dynasty chiefly on dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, is not dominating on either side of the ball.

The Tide defense wasn’t exactly playing bad, but the Clemson O-line held up reasonably well and Deshaun Watson covered up for any mistakes with breathtaking play making that hearkened back to Texas QB Vince Young vs Southern Cal – a comparison that was only made a few hundred times during the night. Nevertheless, the similarities were definitely there.

Side note:  If you don’t remember the 2005 National Championship Game between Texas and Southern Cal, it’s literally the only thing that is ever broadcast on the Longhorn Network. Check it out sometime, they just show it over there on a continual, never ending loop.

Anyway, Watson seemed to glide out of trouble and had a great sense for when to take off and run and when to scramble and throw – eerily reminiscent of Vince, whose team was also an underdog to a dynastic College Football team.

Furthermore, the ‘Bama offensive line was getting destroyed by the Clemson D-line, especially on the right side. The Tide running game was completely ineffective in the second half.

Just when the narrative was taking shape in your mind, something new happened. Nick Saban happened. The old school, traditional conservative football man called for an on-sides kick in the 4th quarter of a National Championship game with the score tied.

Most importantly, it worked.

A legendary gamble that will be talked about forever, it was the perfect on-sides kick.

‘Bama cashed in immediately. A long TD pass to O.J.Howard, his second of the game. Howard was yet another potential story line: a ballyhooed (have always wanted to work ballyhooed into a column) 5-star recruit disappoints for three years then has the game of his life in the biggest game of his life.

The story lines refused to stop there.

Back down the field comes Watson, this time settling for a field goal. It was now a 4-point Alabama lead.

Kenyan Drake then took the ensuing kick off 95-yards for a touchdown.

Ahhh, the redemption story line is here. Yes! Kenyan Drake broke his leg last year, came back this year then broke his arm two months ago. Due to the injuries, his career never got on track the way many thought it would. Then he makes the biggest play of the game and of his life. That’s a great story.

But the game still wasn’t done yet.

Watson and Gallman, the Clemson running back, lead a quick drive back down the field for a touchdown. At this point, the ‘Bama defense seemed basically helpless against the Clemson offense.

The vaunted depth of the ‘Bama defense didn’t seem to be helping. The Tide defenders were gassed and started missing tackles you rarely see missed from a Saban coached unit.

‘Bama got the ball back with about 4 minutes left needing to secure a few first downs to put the game away. On first down, Henry lost two yards.

Every ‘Bama fan in the world was cursing – because they know that the Tide doesn’t convert first downs after a negative play. Alabama was near the bottom in the country on 3rd and long conversions. So this second down call would be the biggest of Lane Kiffin’s tenure at Alabama.

This was the same Lane Kiffin who, at Southern Cal, called the 4th and 1 run to Lendale White in the 2006 BCS game versus Texas (and Vince Young). The score of that game was 41-38. The score of this game was 38-33 and if ‘Bama didn’t convert they’d have to punt it back to Deshaun Watson.

You see where this is going?

Kiffin had been quoted saying he’s been waiting ten years for a shot at redemption. And here it was, in eerily similar circumstances.

Kiffin called a play I’m certain was not run all year: a Tight End screen that initially looked doomed, but that was perfectly blocked on the edge allowing O.J. Howard to get around the corner and take off for a huge gain. It set Alabama up in the Clemson Red Zone.

Lane Kiffin came up huge in the biggest moment of his tenure at Alabama.

The game wasn’t over yet though, Jake Coker wanted his story line too.

This game was a mirror of Coker’s entire year at Alabama. Early in the game he was shaky and fairly awful. He doesn’t have a great clock in his head or innate feel for the rush the way someone like Watson does and he ends up taking sacks when he could throw the ball away. His throws were off target early.

Coker eventually settled in after a huge third and long pick up on a pass down the sideline to Ardarius Stewart. That seemed to get his confidence up. He made several great reads and throws after that. On 3rd and 3 near the goal line, with Clemson desperate to hold ‘Bama to a field goal to keep it a one score game, Coker came up with one of his now trademark ugly, improbable, man on a segway scrambles. He somehow juked the defensive end, Dodd, who had harassed him all day and dove for the first down.

Maligned Quarterback proves haters wrong and comes up big when his team needs him the most!

The game finally ended, but not before another Watson TD and an on-sides kick attempt that could have led to a Hail Mary for the win. Hey, stranger things have happened.

Alabama wins another title, and now the post game story lines started. Is Nick Saban the greatest College Football Coach of all time?

So there were a myriad of stories and they’ve probably all been written. Yet the real, true story of the night was the game itself. How great, how unpredictable, how tense, how spectacular the performances, how legendary it was.

Story lines are great, but the game, the game’s the thing.

And when the game rises to that level, it transcends everything. And that’s what we want out of sports, that’s what sports gives us that nothing else can. Real, live, unpredictable ecstatic drama, and no sport does it better than College Football.


Politics are the Best Sports

The calendar turned to 2016 and it’s officially a Presidential election year.

I want to write about this election, but you can imagine my hesitation.

I don’t want to write about immigration reform, tax policy, institutional racism, gun control, or anything else that actually effects people’s lives.

There are 2 obvious reasons to stay out of politics on Facebook, blogs, the work place or anywhere else:

  1. I’m really not looking to offend anyone.
  2. Like most people, I’m too ignorant about complex issues to offer a relevant opinion on just about anything that might actually matter.

Also, I don’t really care.

Also, I don’t think it really matters.

Also, if I’m wrong, and it does matter, I’m still not sure I care.

Also, please don’t be offended that I don’t care about important issues. I’m glad that other people care and I’m glad stuff gets done, but I’m just not that guy.

I’m over it.

But I still want to write about the Presidential election for the same reason I want to write about sports.

Presidential elections are the best thing going.

Presidential elections are amazing because they’re essentially the best sporting events, but they only get played every 4 years. In that respect they’re like the Olympics except actually insanely good instead of shitty and un-watchable.

Presidential elections have everything that makes entertainment great. Personalities, rivalries, history, egoic explosions, pageantry, money, sex.

They’re fun to watch and you should always be able to pick a side, even if you don’t care.

Why is it fun to watch? Because it’s unscripted drama. Unpredictable humanity. Rules and records are made to be broken. Conventional wisdom, established to be violated.

Why can I always pick a side?

Not for the reason you might think. I used to think it was because of the issues.

It wasn’t.

Turns out, I pick a side for the same reason I picked sports teams. In other words, no reason whatsoever.

I root for Memphis teams because I was born and raised in Memphis. That’s not a reason, it’s either a historical accident or a karmic predisposition, depending on your point of view.

My political inclinations are equally quaint.

I was 7 years old in 1984. My mother took me into the booth with her to vote that year. I think she voted for Walter Mondale.

I kind of liked Reagan. He had nice hair.

In 1988, my 5th grade class held a mock debate. I was adamant about something relating to Michael Dukakis and missile defense. I doubt if my argument was fully developed, but I was into it.

As a 15-year old in 1992, after only knowing old Republican Presidents from other parts of the country, I watched in amazement as 2 young southerners celebrated on election night in Little Rock.

I think I started out rooting for Bush, switched to Paul Tsongas (I liked the name Tsongas), and was thrilled to see Clinton elected.

I liked the way Clinton communicated. He made me feel optimistic about my life. It had nothing to do with his now widely panned welfare reform programs or universal healthcare or crime or anything that mattered.

I voted for the first time, in 1996.

I still liked Clinton (he was cool) and I was a closet ageist and couldn’t support Dole and his decrepit arm. Dole injured his arm while serving in World War II, but that type of heroism didn’t matter to me. I was a 19-year old moron with absolutely zero adult life experience who had as much business voting in an election as I would have had to pilot a space ship.

Side note: I really liked Ross Perot. I knew nothing about his policies or his intentions, but I liked that he was an outsider and talked funny. Plus there was that SNL skit about him dropping his running mate (James Stockdale) off in the woods to abandon him after his horrid debate performance.

I watched the Florida recount with actual fear in 2000, for an entire month. As a first year law student, I was shocked to discover how tenuous American elections actually are. At the time, I was extremely partial to the Clinton legacy, even though Gore probably lost the election for running away from it.

Also, having a President from my home state seemed fun.

In 2004 and 2008, I went door to door with actual emotion for the lefties, convinced that any effort I could contribute might actually make a difference. In my defense, I was living in a swing state. And in my further defense, I was caught up in anti-war idealism typical for a 20-something and a belief that George W. Bush was the worst thing that ever happened to America.

Perhaps that’s true, though I doubt it and either way I’ve moved on.

2012 was probably the least interesting election of my lifetime, but I went into it with an open mind and voted for the least offensive option.

So looking back – you could say I started out on one side and have slowly come back to the middle.

Or you could say I started out with a sense that it all somehow matters and now I’ve woken up to the fact that it probably doesn’t. At least not in the grander scheme of things.

I’m talking humanity’s place in the universe type grand.

I’m honestly not sure which progression is more reflective of the truth – that I’ve evolved politically or gained a truer perspective. Perhaps both, perhaps neither.

This time I’d very much like to see what would happen if Donald Trump wins the GOP nomination. Not because I think he’ll Make America Great Again, but just because I think it would make for great television in 2016.

I can’t turn it off.

I don’t necessarily think Trump is good, or right. He might actually be the worst thing that ever happened to America.

I have no idea.

If America’s political system is as broken as everyone seems to say it is, why not let Trump go in there and burn it to the ground?

Reckless, perhaps.

But again, my political inclinations are as tethered to logic as the reasons I’ll be cheering for Alabama on Monday night.

I like Saban, I like dynasties and I like excellence.

Likes. Feelings. Etc…

Nothing more enlightened than that.

But still, it’s the best sport on TV.

The Saban Gambit

Nick Saban has built one of the greatest dynasties in college football history, the main tenets of which are a suffocating defense and a ball control offense that relies heavily on the run. Even casual fans of college football could probably tell you that.

Saban will always talk about being balanced but when push comes to shove his teams generally rely on a strong run game and quarterback who “manages” the game with timely throws and few errors. Yet in some of the biggest games of Saban’s tenure, Alabama has outflanked their opponent by coming out with a pass first attack, and it’s worked every time.

Just look at the history.

In 2009, the year of the first championship of the Saban era, the Tide were breaking in a new QB in Greg McElroy. McElroy was pretty much the template for game manager. He ended the year with only 4 interceptions by routinely taking sacks instead of forcing the ball into coverage. Alabama ended up running the ball 526 times that year and throwing it 343 times. During one stretch of the season, in the meat of SEC play, McElroy threw for 148, 154, 92, and 120 yards in successive weeks. In the second half of the South Carolina game the offense went entirely to RB Mark Ingram in the Wildcat formation and he closed out the game. McElroy watched from the sideline.

McElroy started to pick it up near the end of the 2009 season, leading a game winning drive against Auburn to advance to the SEC Championship Game. In that game they would face Florida for the second straight year and contend with the juggernaut that Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow had built. The rhetoric entering the game was clear. Can Alabama stop Tebow? Can Florida shut down the ‘Bama run game and force McElroy to beat them?

‘Bama came out in the first series in a 3 receiver set, and Mcelroy hit Julio Jones for about 15 yards. The Tide ended up throwing it 5 times on the first drive which resulted in a field goal. On the next drive McElroy hit Colin Peek for a 30 yard gain on first down. After that, the play calling became more of a 50-50 split until the Tide took control of the game at which point the attack went back to more of their traditional run heavy style, but a seed was planted that night.

In 2011, Alabama was once again breaking in a new starter, A.J. McCarron.  McCarron appeared to have more natural talent than McElroy but, true to form, Saban held the reigns pretty tight on him. Saban preferred to rely on his superstar running back Trent Richardson (you might remember him as disastrous NFL flop Trent Richardson but I assure you he was actually awesome in college). Of course, Saban also relied on one of the best defenses in the modern era of college football.

Over the course of that 2011 season Alabama ran it 456 times and threw it 346 times. In their regular season meeting with LSU, the only loss of the year, Mccarron threw it 29 times, completing 16 of those attempts for 96 yards. The next game against MIssissippi State he was 14 of 24 for 223 yards. Going into the National Championship game, a rematch against LSU, the Tide had thrown it more than 30 times on just three occasions and two of those were vs. Kent State and Vanderbilt. They didn’t rush it less than 30 times in any game the entire season.

Entering the epic rematch vs. LSU, the narrative was familiar. Can LSU stop the ‘Bama rushing attack and force A.J. Mccarron to beat them? With the kind of NFL talent LSU had on defense  – 14 (!) LSU defenders who played that day were eventually drafted – if the Tigers wanted to commit extra players in run support they were most likely going to be successful stopping the run.

On the first drive ‘Bama started with a play action bootleg pass, easy for McCarron. Next play, another easy play action pass. The next play was an inside hand off, and then it was back to the pass, two in a row before the drive stalled. Next drive, deep in LSU territory, started the same way, a play action pass. The whole game played out in similar fashion, with McCarron making all the big plays on offense. The running game only took over once the game was in hand.

McCarron ended up throwing 34 passes, completing 23 for 234 yards. They ran it 35 times for 150 yards. Once again, Saban and his offensive coaches anticipated the defensive plan, conceded that the defense would be able to stop the run if they wanted to and switched the game plan to a pass heavy attack.

Cut to 2015. Once again Saban is breaking in a new quarterback, this time 5th year transfer Jacob Coker. During the season Coker has proven even less useful than McElroy and McCarron. Consequently, the offense has leaned even more heavily on Heisman tailback Derrick Henry.

This year, prior to the Michigan State game, the Tide ran it 481 times, and threw it 389 times. Towards the end of the season the balance really shifted towards the running game. The last 4 real games Coker threw it for 184, 144, 179,  and 204 yards while the team ran it for 250, 235, 286 and 233.

Going into last week’s Semifinal the narrative was (and stop me if you’ve heard this) Can Michigan State stop the run and force Jacob Coker to beat them?

Once again, Alabama and Coker come out throwing the football. Coker threw it the first five plays. He threw again on first down the next drive, and after Alabama ran the ball twice, Coker then threw or dropped back on the next two plays. On the Tide’s first touchdown drive Coker threw it 4 of the first 5 plays.  On and on this went, until the game was well in hand. Coker ended up throwing it 30 times, completing 25 for 286 yards.  Alabama ran the ball 35 times for just 154 yards but won the game 38-0.

Over and over, in the biggest games, Alabama under Nick Saban has broken trend and become a pass first offense. Saban and his Offensive Coordinators slowly build the confidence and work load for their QBs throughout the season and then eventually put it on their shoulders to win in the biggest games.

I’m not trying to overstate this strategy, it’s not revolutionary. It’s basically second level thinking. You think I’m going to do X so I do Y. Nevertheless it’s been an effective strategy that no defense has really adjusted to. Perhaps it’s hard to adjust to as it would be pretty easy for ‘Bama to switch course if they started to see good looks to run into, but it is curious that no team has come out anticipating this adjustment from the Crimson Tide.

Clemson would be well advised to pay attention to history as they game plan for the Championship Game.


For Memphis Football, Time to Get to Work

Justin Fuente and Paxton Lynch were all smiles on Thursday as Lynch announced his early departure for the NFL draft.

Easy for them to smile, they’re leaving.

For fans of the program, fans that have suffered through years of misfortune and inept football, the feeling was significantly less buoyant.

After all, less than 24 hours had passed since the shell of the program Fuente left behind was humiliated at the Birmingham Bowl. Humiliated by the 3 touchdown loss to an underachieving Auburn team, and humiliated by the headline grabbing shenanigans of Senior Reggis Ball – who wrestled an Auburn equipment manager after the game to steal a football.

Ball was later dismissed from the team, but proceeded to display the autographed ball on Instagram.

Let’s be real about what Reggis Ball did – nobody cares. He’s a 20 year old kid doing what 20 year old kids do.

But let’s also be real about what the last 24 hours reveal about the Memphis football program – all isn’t necessarily well.

Could new coach Mike Norvell be just the type of leader, recruiter and football coach that the program needs in order to take the next step forward?

Sure, I guess.

Could he also be a man hired to take over a program that drastically over-achieved with Lynch (potential top NFL pick) but that lacks the structural moxie to replicate even similar success going forward.

Kind of seemed like that in Birmingham, didn’t it?

Doesn’t it now seem likely that Fuente wasn’t all that impressed about what he was leaving behind?

After all, this was a team that lost 4 of its final 5 games with Lynch under center. And again, without crucifying Ball for acting like a kid, surely we can all agree that his behavior didn’t exactly display a program oozing with mature Senior leadership.

I was struck by what Fuente said just moments before hopping a plane to Blacksburg last month:

“I hope that the next coach comes in – and I hope that (the Memphis program) will be in better shape than when we got it, but it’s not perfect either.” 

If you watch the video it’s almost as if Fuente was going out of his way to emphasize that there are some issues here. The vapor trail he left behind him isn’t reassuring either.

Like ‘not perfect’ in the indoor practice facility still hasn’t been built or ‘not perfect’ in that the leadership and / or talent in the program isn’t at a level to compete for conference championships?

Or both?

Oh look, there’s conference divisional mate Houston winning the Peach Bowl over Florida State with a coach signed to a $3m per year long term contract.

Oh look, there’s a story about how BYU and Cincinnati are favorites for Big XII expansion and how the football program at Memphis “isn’t developed enough.”

Wonder where they got that impression?  Maybe they listened to that Fuente interview.

So welcome to the job Mike Norvell. Pay no attention to those guys in the lobby smiling ear to ear for the cameras. They’re even richer than you are and they’re not sticking around.

Grab a hard hat, time to get to work.


Definitely Not a ‘Best of’ List

Best of lists are everywhere this time of year, for obvious reasons.

One, it’s a logical time to talk about what happened during the calendar year. Two, and more importantly, it makes for an easy column.

Hell, now we have whole websites that do nothing but listicles. I, of course, would never be so unoriginal.

So without further ado I bring you my Favorite Things of 2015!

(Way different than a best of list).

My favorite sports moments of 2015:

RJ Hunter three pointer to beat Baylor.  This shot was March Madness at it’s best. Underdog Georgia State pulls off a miracle, beating Baylor in the opening round of the tourney after being down 12 with 3 minutes to play. Georgia State goes on a 13-0 run, capped off by a deeeep three from RJ Hunter while his dad, the head coach, is on the sideline. His dad had injured himself in the conference tourney celebrating, so he was sitting on a stool during the game due to a torn achilles. As the shot went in his dad literally fell off the stool. A perfect sports moment.

I’m not much of a baseball fan but the Bautista bat flip was awesome. A player coming up clutch in the biggest moment of the season and defiantly flipping his bat. It actually made me care about baseball for a few minutes. Plus it pissed off baseball curmudgeons who hate any expressions of joy on a baseball field.

The Arkansas 4th and 25 miracle. This one holds a special place in my heart as it led to Alabama getting a berth in the SEC Championship Game and subsequently the College Football Playoff. Though this play stands on it’s own, it is a play I have never seen in 30-something years of watching football. It’s indescribable. Even watching it for the 100th time I can’t really believe it happened. Just watch.

My favorite albums of 2015:

I don’t consume a ton of music during the year, maybe two albums a month or so. I prefer to find things I really like and wear them out as opposed to mowing through a ton of albums. My favorite album, the one I was the most obsessed with for the longest time was definitely Courtney Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. Many of these songs could have existed just as great short stories. Incredible, hilarious, insightful and odd lyrics all pulled off with a deadpan delivery that will scratch itself into your soul. Great classic rock-y hooks and punk energy. I love every track on the album though the first one is probably my favorite.

My other favorite album of 2015 is Vince Staples, Summertime 06. The title makes it sound like a fun record of summer beach jams. Not so much. Vince is pretty dark. I like how he’s just as interested in setting a mood as he is showing you how great of a rapper he is. It’s several tracks in before Staples really lets loose on some lyrics. I still probably slightly prefer his 2014 release Hell Can Wait but this album continued to grow on me the past few months. Here’s my favorite track.

Favorite TV shows of 2015:

There’s an insane amount of good tv these days so I’m bound to forget ten or so shows I loved, but these are the ones that came to the top of my head.

Fargo: This show is on virtually every best-of-2015 list, and for good reason. It was damn near perfect. The first season of this show was really good but this season just hit every mark. Incredible ensemble cast, pristine writing and servicing of the whole cast, great plotting and pacing. The whole thing could be taught as a masterclass on television.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: I will watch pretty much anything that Tina Fey is involved in. This show is both reminiscent of 30 Rock but also totally original. The reminiscent part is the joke density and absurdity. I always thought 30 Rock had the best joke writers in the world and they appear to now all be working on Kimmy Schmidt.  Ellie Kemper as Kimmy brought a different energy than 30 Rock, a relentlessly, foolishly positive attitude that was infectious. Also, I had the Pinot Noir song stuck in my head for a solid month.

Broad City: This show isn’t for everyone but it cracked me up. I love that the main characters actually like each other and their friendship is the main relationship of the show. I also love that they are sex positive and talk about things you generally think of as the domain of men on tv, e.g., bathroom, sex and drug humor. It’s kind of the anti-Sex and the City. It seems like these could actually be real people really living in New York.

Rick and Morty: I love pretty much everything Dan Harmon does. This show is no exception, hilarious sci-fi adventures led by a filthy irresponsible genius sociopath and his kinda dim grandson. The show can pretty much do whatever it wants in a given episode, which is great because it can borrow from every great sci fi idea ever. But much like Harmon did with Community, he grounds the absurd scenarios with an emotional center so that you actually care about the characters. My favorite episode was ‘Get Schwifty’, about an intergalactic American Idol type competition.

Favorite Book of 2015:

People read? I guess so. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel was one my favorite book of the year. A flu like virus wipes out 90 percent of the world’s population, then the story jumps forward 20 years and follows a group of survivors who have formed a traveling Shakespeare troupe. The story yo yos between their story and the story of an actor who died on stage the night the epidemic broke out. The book is low on apocalypse terror but there’s a great mystery to keep you turning pages. It’s well plotted and it’s filled with little ruminations and insights about civilization, culture, nostalgia and performance.

Favorite Movie of 2015:

I didn’t see a ton of movies in 2015 but my favorite was Sicario. It’s really a theater experience though, not sure it would translate on the small screen. The intensity, the score, the subverting of expectations, the incredible performances by the three leads, the tense atmosphere, incredible cinematography and the way it was shot made it really tense and enjoyable.

Favorite Meals of 2015:

I could probably name a top 50 or so here but I’ll just mention two. One was at Lotus of Siam in Vegas.  I had lunch there in June and this is probably my favorite restaurant in the country. It’s gotten pretty popular these days but it still delivers the goods. Incredible Thai food, and pretty much everything here is great.  We had Papaya salad, Northern larb, Thai red chili dip, Issan style beef jerky, and Tom Yum. If you like Thai food and are ever in Vegas, Lotus is a must.

The other was at Bayona in New Orleans. There’s no beating the food in New Orleans and Bayona is a standout in a city full of great dining options. I had the crispy smoked quail salad and the veal sweetbreads. If you’re a little iffy on sweetbreads this would be the ideal spot to give ’em a try. Crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.  Every bite at this place is perfection, and it’s in a great location in the quarter.

Bitter Pill to Swallow on Conference Realignment

Pete Thamel of Campus Rush put out an article this morning on the future of the Big XII. For those hoping that The University of Memphis is going to be part of that future, this article didn’t contain a lot of good news.

I’m not sure it contained any good news, but I’ll do my best to find some.

It’s easy to find stuff on the internet about conference expansion. It’s way more difficult to find legitimately sourced stories about conference expansion.

Thamel’s piece qualifies as the latter. He’s a real reporter.

Thamel spoke to several people around the league and felt strongly enough to say the “near consensus” was that if the conference expanded, it would invite BYU and Cincinnati.

Despite internet rumors to the contrary (BYU is too difficult to work with, Texas politics would force the league to add Houston, Fred Smith wrote a 15 trillion dollar check, etc…), this makes sense. BYU is the most established football brand on the market. Cincinnati is a geographic bridge to West Virginia and has been pouring money into facilities.

As Tommy West famously said, ya gotta have a stick to fight with. Or something like that.

It had to hurt Memphis fans’ egos to see UCF, USF, UConn, Houston and Colorado State all listed ahead of Memphis in terms of perceived attractiveness. Remember, this isn’t necessarily Thamel’s opinion. This is his assessment after talking to people in and around the league.

That’s not a good thing.

Why is Memphis not a more serious candidate? Thamel answers that question in his piece:

Memphis: Memphis had some buzz for a while, as it features a solid television market and recruiting base. Ultimately, though, the football program isn’t developed enough and better academic schools are available.”

Would this be a different story if Justin Fuente had won a few more games this year and not darted to Blacksburg?

Possibly, but probably not.

So at the end of the day it comes down to two things:

  1. Academics.
  2. People apparently don’t trust that the football success at Memphis is more than a 2-year fluke.

Well, that sucks.

I don’t want to get into a discussion about academic rankings and research centers, etc., but it’s hard to imagine the timeline on those things changing will be quick enough to ever assist Memphis’ effort.

Thamel makes it clear the Big XII could be moving sooner rather than later.

So if Memphis was going to overcome a weak academic reputation to garner an invite to a major conference, it was going to have to do so on the strength of football.

Therefore, Memphis’ best hope was to keep investing in football. And to keep winning in football.

This isn’t news, but Thamel’s piece is a reality check to Memphis fans and supporters that maybe thought Memphis has done enough of either.

They haven’t.

Memphis has now had 2 nice seasons in a row but has yet to play in a major bowl game, has delayed ground breaking on an indoor practice facility for 8 decades running, and has a fan base that still qualifies as fickle.

Perhaps those that matter have noticed.

There was some good news, if you’re looking through blue colored glasses.

Thamel’s reporting revealed little support for adding Houston, despite their renewed and renowned investments in football. He also apparently found little interest among those he spoke with for UCF or USF, probably for the same reasons as Memphis (academics, lack of truly established football programs).

So that knocks out 3 supposed competitors.

Still, the academic issues sting the most and those aren’t likely to change any time soon.

And BYU / Cincinnati now seem like the clear front runners.

The bottom line – time may be running out on Memphis’ power conference hopes (again).