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.