Fake News: Gary Parrish Edition

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

We should all be on the lookout for fake news. 

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

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

I don’t know the answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Period.

Tubby may take it from bad to worse. 

Again, I’m not here to argue otherwise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The contradiction?

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

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

Guess what?

There was also a 3rd quote!

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

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

Smith’s answer:

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

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

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

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

But I’ve wandered from the point.

The point is this:

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

Clearly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But again, I’m slightly off the point.

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

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

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