Category Archives: Musings

Who Told Markel Crawford to Transfer to Ole Miss?

On April 10, 2017, Markel Crawford announced he was leaving Tubby Smith’s Memphis basketball program.

Less than 2-weeks later, Crawford decided to to join the Ole Miss Rebels.

Rather than help re-establish the Memphis program as a Senior leader under Smith, Crawford instead chose to spend his final year of eligibility chasing an NCAA tournament bid for the neighboring SEC school.

As a college graduate who earned the opportunity to transfer, it’s hard to fault a player in this circumstance, especially considering that Crawford’s original college coach – Josh Pastner – was no longer at Memphis.

To Smith’s Memphis program, it was a painful moment.

Combined with the decision of Dedric and KJ Lawson to leave Memphis for Kansas, Crawford’s transfer was a gut punch to the fledgling program. It meant that year 2 for Smith would be played with almost a brand new roster.

The transfers also ended any semblance of a honeymoon period for Smith as the Tiger Basketball head man.

Almost a year later, Crawford’s move doesn’t appear to have worked out for anyone involved.

As could be expected, Memphis has taken a step back. Without Crawford on the perimeter – Memphis is one of the worst teams in the country at both defending and making 3-pt shots. The Tigers are currently 14-10 (5-6) and are on track to miss the postseason entirely for the 4th consecutive season.

Crawford and Ole Miss aren’t faring any better.

Saturday, Crawford picked up a technical foul as the Rebels lost their 5th consecutive game, by 16 to LSU. Crawford was held without a field goal.

The Rebels fell to 11-14 (4-8).

This represents a significant step back for Ole Miss, which finished the 2016-17 season with 22 wins and a trip to the NIT Quarterfinals.

Of course, it’s not fair to blame Crawford for Ole Miss’ struggles. It is fair, however, to note that Crawford’s production has slipped.

In his lone season under Tubby Smith, Crawford averaged career highs in points (12.8), rebounds (4.4), 3pt % (33.3) and minutes (32.4).

As a Rebel, Crawford’s production has regressed in each category.

Tiger fans, but more importantly Crawford himself has to be wondering how he might have progressed in a 2nd year under Tubby Smith.

Would his progress have mirrored that of Jeremiah Martin, who is leading the AAC in scoring?

Would Martin and Crawford playing together have resulted in more victories for the Tigers?

Surely.

Of course, the popular narrative is that it’s Tubby Smith’s fault for not doing more to convince Crawford to stay.

That’s fair – but it’s also fair to question those that advised Crawford to make the change – whomever they are. Because in retrospect this was a bad decision, one that hasn’t worked out for anyone involved.

 

Grizzlies Plan: TANK & TINKER

I watched the media availability Chris Wallace gave on Friday and came to one obvious conclusion.

I’m a huge hypocrite.

I’ve complained that everyone in town treats Wallace with kid gloves.

I’ve complained that the Tigers get held to a higher standard than the Grizzlies.

I’ve theorized that Wallace’s failures get ignored because he’s so likable.

Perhaps all those things are true.

But on Friday, while watching Wallace explain the Grizzlies rationale for not trading Tyreke Evans, I found myself fully bought in to what he was selling.

The Grizzlies thought process, according to Wallace, was actually pretty straightforward: the trade offers that came in for Tyreke Evans were simply outweighed by the possibility that he might re-sign with the Grizzlies in the off-season, a possibility that itself becomes more likely if the franchise keeps him around in the meantime.

Wallace cited Evans’ love for the city, his history with the Tigers, and how his brief stint with the Grizzlies represents the best period of his tumultuous NBA career.

He cited the human element.

Did I mention that Wallace is a likable guy?

Tank & Tinker

So the Grizzlies objective, rather than a complete rebuild, is to tank and tinker their way back to the playoffs.

That’s right – the Grizzlies want to lose enough to get a lottery pick – but also keep their best assets in hopes of a quick rebuild.

The plan is to keep Mike Conley on the shelf, and use Marc Gasol and Evans sparingly from here on out.

Then, after the season, the franchise will try to re-sign Evans, draft a lottery pick that can contribute immediately and surround that group with various other young players and spare parts.

Oh – and also hope that Chandler Parsons becomes a miracle of modern science.

It’s clear that Wallace hopes that all of this will result in a resurgent team capable of playoff contention.

Will it all work?

I put the odds at around 25%, maybe less.

But even at 25%, what are the other options?

Nobody seems to think a prolonged rebuild can work in Memphis at this time.

So why not try the tank and tinker approach?

As much as I really do think the Grizzlies too often get a pass from Memphians – I’m again inclined to give them one in this instance.

Yep – I’m a giant hypocrite.

 

 

Sad Times in Round Town: Thoughts on Josh Pastner & Grizz Drama

One of two things is true.

Either:

  1. Josh Pastner is guilty of an ongoing heinous sexual assault.
  2. Josh Pastner is guilty of letting absolute maniacs deep inside his Memphis program over the course of his final few years in the Bluff City.

But remember folks, Pastner left the program in great shape!

My money is on #2 above, by the way.

The statement from Pastner’s lawyer (courtesy of our good friend Gary Parrish) is pretty unequivocal:

Again, even if the accuser in this instance is completely lying, it only serves to confirm what we already knew about Pastner at Memphis: his ability to assemble a roster of highly ranked recruits was entirely undermined by his amazing ineptitude at running a successful program.

Let’s not forget the details:

But again, folks, remember – this was a GREAT situation Tubby Smith inherited.

No cultural problems at all.

Nothing to see here.

The fact that it isn’t fixed by year two is a travesty.

No Tyreke Trade

Speaking of nothing to see here, the NBA trade deadline came and went and Tyreke Evans is still a Memphis Grizzly.

Fans are understandably upset.

One of two things is true in this situation as well:

  1. The Grizzlies front office has no idea what they are doing.
  2. The Grizzlies front office has completely failed at communicating to their fan base what they are doing.

I suspect it’s the former, because #2 really shouldn’t be hard.

The Grizzlies are flailing – and the local fan base is getting restless.

Tough times in Round Town. 

 

 

The Tubby Smith Debate is Over

Mercifully, the Tubby Smith debate is over.

As Smith approaches the end of his 2nd year at Memphis- another disappointing season – we can finally end the debate surrounding his tenure as coach at The University of Memphis.

Everyone should be able to agree on the following 3 points:

  1. Tubby Smith needs to upgrade the talent on his roster.
  2. Tubby Smith likely has to change his staff immediately after the season to make that happen.
  3. Tubby Smith has one more season to prove he can get Memphis back to the NCAA tournament.

It’s really that simple.

To argue that he should be fired now, as the end of his 2nd season approaches, is wrong.

And yes, I get that it’s hard to have hope after watching Memphis get pumped by East Carolina and Wichita State in back to back games, but it’s still wrong to suggest firing the coach now.

Even if Tubby Smith refuses to shake up his staff, even if Jeremiah Martin transfers, even if David Nickleberry transfers – the coach pretty much has to get one more year.

Tubby Smith has 3 years left on a contract that pays him $9.75m total over that time.

Memphis would have to pay Tubby Smith almost $10m over the next 3-years to not coach their basketball team.

I don’t think that’s happening.

So no, I don’t think Penny Hardaway will be coaching Memphis next year.

I think at a minimum, Kareem Brewton, Kyvon Davenport, Mike Parks, and Raynere Thornton will return to form the core of the 2018-2019 Memphis Tigers.

Jeremiah Martin, David Nickleberry, Victor Enoh and Jamal Johnson will have other options – but some or all of them could be back as well.

The best hope at this point is that this group finishes respectably, that Smith finally shakes up his staff this off-season and can somehow secure a few more talented pieces for 2018-2019.

For those of us who have been patient and have defended Smith, this optimistic scenario seems more distant than ever.

But either way, mercifully, the debate around Tubby Smith is fading away.

What has to happen from here is becoming more clear.

No Going Back

Though the debate regarding Smith is over, it doesn’t mean his critics are vindicated.

They will never be vindicated.

The folks that buried Smith after merely one year were wrong then and they’ll always be wrong for having mischaracterized the situation Smith inherited.

Smith’s eventual failure, if it comes to that, doesn’t justify their dishonesty at ignoring the structural issues surrounding the program Josh Pastner left behind.

A culture of transfers, quid pro quo recruiting arrangements, a team that had missed the tournament 2-years running.

Describing that as a promising inheritance was wrong then and it’s still wrong.

Reaching Out

Smith’s failure, should it come to that, also shouldn’t be placed entirely on not “reaching out” to the local AAU and High School Basketball Coaches. “Reaching out” seems like a euphemism for “taking care” of people.

A euphemism for getting “deals” done.

We know what’s going on here, I think.

Larry Finch got some local guys -but the “community” turned on him in the end.  He was unceremoniously dumped.

Josh Pastner’s story was much the same. Major local recruiting success didn’t lead to anything special on the court.

Local players and coaches turned on Pastner and he was forced out.

So I don’t blame Tubby Smith for not playing this game, BUT if the trajectory of his tenure doesn’t change he will ultimately be blamed for not having a viable alternative.

In other words, I don’t care if Smith passes on Memphis kids, but he better have good enough players from elsewhere and be able to stitch a team together that can reach the NCAA tournament.

At the moment, that clearly isn’t happening.

He has one more year to get that done.

But for now, at least the debate is over.

 

 

If You Squint Hard Enough, You Can See The Future of Memphis Basketball

Hurry.

If you squint right now, you can see the version of the Memphis Basketball program that David Rudd saw when he hired Tubby Smith in April of 2016.

After another loss or two, and another round of primal screams from the local miserables, you might not be able to see it for a while.

But right now you can see it.

Right now you can see the rough outlines of what Rudd surely had in mind when he hired Smith to lead a program that had long since been subsumed by dysfunction.

Again, it’s hazy now.

But if you try hard enough you can see each of the following features:

  1. Raw coaching ability.

Tubby Smith has taken a group of 11 unheralded newcomers, mixed them with 2 unheralded returning players and produced a group that, after 3 consecutive wins, suddenly looks capable of competing in the top half of the American Athletic Conference.

In the immortal words of Willie ‘Mays’ Hayes, “Not bad for a has-been and a couple of never-will-be’s, huh?”

Sure, the Tigers could still fall apart and live down to the preseason expectations of finishing 9th or 10th in the 12 team league (at least one preseason publication had them dead last), but for the time being they’re competitive.

Heck, if Smith can figure out how to spell Jeremiah Martin for about 5 minutes each game, the Tigers may just be able to finish as strong as they currently look.

For the time being, a roster that was incessantly ridiculed by “experts” throughout the off-season looks cohesive, bought into an offensive and defensive concept, and capable of beating anyone in the AAC, with the likely exception of Cincinnati and Wichita State.

In the 7 years before Smith arrived, Memphis never had a set rotation. Players grew frustrated not knowing their role and the identity of the team fluctuated from season to season – if not week to week.

Contrariwise, Smith is a man who tunes out the criticism and simply coaches his team based on the basic principles (packline defense, motion offense) he’s employed for 3 decades. About a week ago Smith realized his rag-tag new roster wasn’t executing his somewhat complicated motion offense well enough against superior athletes, so he simplified things.

The Tigers haven’t lost since.

2. The Exact Right Mixture of Memphis Guys & Non-Memphis Guys

Speaking of Jeremiah Martin, the Junior from Mitchell High School in Memphis, TN is averaging 18.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, and 4.1 apg.

Jeremiah Martin is the star of this Memphis team, and he’s been given free reign offensively.

Imagine what Joe Jackson might have done in a similar featured role.

Imagine what Tyler Harris might do.

Make no mistake, Martin is being given free reign because Smith doesn’t have a better option, because Martin is surrounded by less talented guys that can’t create their own shot.

Yet, the mother of all invention is necessity and out of the current roster predicament Tubby Smith may just have stumbled on a recruiting strategy that could work.

Surrounding one or two talented Memphis scoring guards with a bunch of guys willing to grab rebounds, defend, take charges and generally do the dirty work necessary for success has worked pretty well the last couple of weeks.

I’m of the opinion that a roster stacked with Memphis guys won’t work. Not enough spotlights or basketballs. Again, the years directly preceding Smith’s arrival serve as Exhibit A.

And we all know Tubby Smith isn’t going to recruit like John Calipari. Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose aren’t walking through that door.

So why not feature one or two Memphis guys (Martin, Harris?) and surround them with guys content to get junk buckets (Kyvon Davenport), bang around the basket (Mike Parks), stroke 3’s (Kareem Brewton, Jamal Johnson) and block shots (Conor Vanover)?

You’ve got to have talent to win, but the most talented team doesn’t always win.

3. Tubby’s Personality.

Forget about the recruiting debate for minute, please.

Please.

Hear me out.

Tubby Smith is the perfect personality to coach at Memphis.

First of all, he’s a highly respected African American man who values discipline and class. I think that matters in Memphis. Race issues have haunted this city, and the Memphis program for a long time. Having Tubby Smith lead the program just looks and feels right to me. I’m fearful my opinion in this regard reveals some latent racial insensitivity (why should it matter?)  but I’m rolling with it anyway.

Secondly, Tubby is old school, which is also aesthetically appealing. Just this week, he referred to the Cincinnati game as, “an ass whipping.” Apparently after that game, according to the Commercial Appeal’s Mark Gianatto, Smith could be heard from down the hall chewing out his team.

After the Tulsa game Smith said, “we’re going to be who I am.”

At a time when college basketball feels dirtier than ever, when programs are literally under investigation by the FBI, it’s nice to have a guy that says, I know what the hell I’m doing, so kindly leave me alone and let me do what I’ve done for 30 years because I know it’s going to work.

It’s especially nice if it’s actually working, as it has for the past week.

4. Regional Rivalries

John Calipari shunned regional rivalries because he built a transcendent national program.

He crapped on Arkansas because he could – and it was great.

Pastner tried to keep the same philosophy, but it didn’t work because his teams weren’t good enough.

As with recruiting, Memphis must now find a new path forward when it comes to scheduling and filling FedExForum. It appears they may be finalizing a new (retro) approach:

Getting the Vols and Hogs into FedExForum could make November and December college basketball in Memphis great again!

And if Memphis is only needing to keep one or two local players away from SEC schools anyway, the fear factor should be nonexistent.

Smart move.


So yea, if you squint right now you can see the broad outlines of what David Rudd and some other folks clearly thought Tubby Smith could build the Memphis basketball program into.

The odd news this weekend that former coach Josh Pastner is suing a man whom he had once let deep inside his former program is further confirmation of how strange and dysfunctional the Memphis program had become, despite local expert claims to the contrary.

Remember, Pastner also had hired and fired his own brother in law, overseen a parade of high profile transfers (including one who threatened to sue the university) and two consecutive post-season whiffs.

So no, Gary Parrish, Tubby Smith didn’t create a mess at Memphis. He walked into one.

But never mind all that. Let’s finally move on.

Here’s hoping that the Tigers win Tuesday against UConn in front of what should be the largest crowd of the season. Here’s hoping that Tyler Harris decides he’ll take the torch from Jeremiah Martin as the next great scoring guard out of Memphis.

Here’s hoping that a new vision of Tiger basketball begins to appear in the eyes of fans and skeptical media – the vision that the powers had when they hired Smith in the first place.


(Photo Courtesy of Philadelphia Inquirer / Charles Fox)

Plenty of Blame To Go Around for State of Tiger Basketball

Regrettably, the discussion of Tiger Basketball has come to resemble political debate in the era of Trump.

Nuanced, balanced opinions have given way to all or nothing dialogue.

Self-styled tolerant people are out for the coach’s head after 40 games (he’s 25-15, by the way), and if you blame them or anything else for the woes of the program then you’re accused of letting the coach off the hook.

There is only one (publicly acceptable) position right now:  that Tubby Smith, and everything about his program, is a disaster. 

The reality is, there’s plenty of blame to go around in what everyone agrees is a historic low point in Tiger basketball, at least from a national relevance and fan attendance perspective.

Allow me to divy things up:

Reality – 5%

I assign reality 5% of the blame for the current state of Tiger Basketball.

Nobody wants to hear it, but the world of college athletics in 2017 is very different than it was 10-15 years ago.

Comparing Tubby Smith’s program to the one Dana Kirk led in 1985 isn’t just irrelevant, it’s idiotic in light of the reality of what that program represented.

Even 2008 seems like forever ago.

Derrick Rose had a great run at Memphis, but fans of the sport know that the one and done rule has eroded College Basketball.

This column is a little dated, but it notes that attendance for Division I men’s games has been falling over the past decade.  TV ratings are also down.

The sport itself is now the subject of an FBI investigation, the details of which make clear just how brazenly Memphis would likely have to cheat (or break the law) to continue recruiting elite prospects to a non “Power” school in the current environment.

The proliferation of televised content has also altered the recruiting landscape – diminishing some programs’ inherent recruiting advantages and concentrating financial resources in the “Power” conferences.

Furthermore, the need to focus resources on football has never been greater. Memphis has definitely been doing that, to everyone’s delight.

None of this is an excuse for basketball failure – but it is reality and it gets routinely ignored.

Dick Hackett / Sidney Shlenker – 5%

Tiger basketball has been a downtown thing since 1991, and it was always a bad idea. Now that the program is in a prolonged down cycle, the chickens have come home to roost in the form of pathetic attendance numbers.

Dick Hackett was the mayor of Memphis in the 1980’s and Sidney Shlenker was the scummy guy who helped sell Memphians on the idea of a downtown arena. The Tigers playing downtown, at the Pyramid, was part of the deal. Eventually, Tiger basketball moved to FedExForum with the Grizzlies – but leaving the Coliseum for anywhere other than campus wasn’t smart. It works OK when the Tigers are ranked. When the team is lousy, the large empty arena only enhances the depression factor.

By the way, Memphis isn’t the only fading power in a major market playing in front of dwindling crowds in an NBA arena. Georgetown is having the same issues. The Hoyas turned to a graduate and former NBA star, Patrick Ewing, to try to turn things around – could the Tigers be desperate enough to try the same thing?

Probably.

Tubby Smith – 35%

As soon as you criticize anyone other than the head coach for the state of the Tiger program, people think you’re letting Tubby Smith off the hook.

I’m not letting Tubby Smith off the hook.

There’s a few things Tubby needs to do immediately. First, he probably needs to go on Gary Parrish’s radio show. Tubby Smith needs to tell Gary Parrish and his listeners exactly how he plans to turn things around. Then he needs to go on Geoff Calkins’ show and say the same stuff again. Tubby Smith needs to engage his fiercest critics and answer their questions.

I don’t particularly care for Gary Parrish, but Tubby shouldn’t be afraid of (or above) taking him on, head to head. That’s part of his job.

After that, he probably needs to sign a local recruit, if for no other reason than to shut a lot of people up.

Beating Louisville, Wichita State or Cincinnati wouldn’t hurt – but that doesn’t appear likely this season. Short of that, he needs his team to be competitive and improve. If they can’t at least do that, it’s going to get even uglier, and fast.

 

Gary Parrish & Geoff Calkins – 25%

Speaking of political debates, I’ve always been fascinated by the post-Presidential debate spin room. The spin room is acknowledgment of the reality that, in most cases, the winner of a Presidential debate is whichever candidate the pundit class says won the debate. This is why spin is so important.

Got to get that narrative out there fast. 

My point?

To some extent Tubby Smith’s first year in Memphis was an epic failure because Gary Parrish wrote a national column saying it was an epic failure.

The local narrative matters, and in year one of the Tubby Smith era the local narrative got away from him. Amidst the Lawson drama, having to reshape the roster on the fly, underwhelming recruiting, and an already declining base of attendance – Gary Parrish had an opening to eviscerate Tubby Smith and for whatever reason (ratings, resentment) he took it. His woke listeners lapped it up and at that point the die was cast.

Tom Bowen – 25%

It’s impossible for any fan, or columnist, or even probably Tubby Smith himself, to know with certainty why Memphis basketball has seen a precipitous drop in competitiveness, recruiting, attendance,  and national relevance over the past decade.

There are so many factors that go into success or failure.

What we do know is that there’s only one person whose job it is to understand and account for all those factors – Athletic Director Tom Bowen.

Memphis just opened a new basketball facility and pays its head coach handsomely, so the natural inclination is to think that all the pieces are in place.

I suspect it’s not that simple.

Tom Bowen, like Tubby Smith, needs to engage the local media more. He needs to challenge Smith more on engagement, recruiting, and promotion of the program. If necessary, he needs to push for staff changes.

Bottom line, the Athletic Director needs to be more accountable for the current state of the program.

John Calipari – 5%

Ask UMass fans how life after John Calipari is going.  Calipari left Amherst, MA 22 years ago and the Minutemen haven’t won an NCAA tournament game since.

Now, Memphis isn’t UMass but it isn’t Kentucky either. Tiger fans in their right minds should’ve celebrated the early successes of Josh Pastner, but they didn’t. In the shadow of Calipari’s excessive success, it just all looked so puny.

The hangover is real, and to some extent it’s still going on.


So yea, you can blame Tubby Smith. You can pretend that firing him would fix things in an instant.

Those are acceptable opinions.

Those are the only acceptable opinions.

 

Breaking Down the FBI Scandal

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

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

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

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

Q2. But who is the victim?

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

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

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

Q4. What really happened?

A few things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q7: Is Memphis in the clear?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today that step has been justified.

 

 

 

 

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

JOE JACKSON ARRESTED

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

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

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

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

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

FIZDALE SPEAKS OUT

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

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

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

That’s a good thing for all of us.

It’s 2017.

Sports and politics are irreversibly intertwined.

People seem to be getting used to that fact.

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

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

They shouldn’t.

Thankfully, it appears increasingly that they aren’t.

SPORTS DIMINISHED & DEBASED

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

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

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

2017 isn’t normal. 

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

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

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

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

George Washington & Memphis’ Quest for Power

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

Yes, but not in the form you probably imagine.

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

More on him in a minute.

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

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

Shots fired, Big XII & ACC.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s more American than that?

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

The commissioner understands the stakes:

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

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

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

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

Ignored Locally

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

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

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

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

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

I guess newsworthiness is subjective.

Oh well, Aresco will surely soldier on….

 

 

 

 

Has Gary Parrish Been in a Coma Since 2014?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the immortal words of Clay Davis, sheeeeeeeit. 

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

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

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

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

That’s right. January of 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

So the facts are this:

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

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

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

The worst was this musing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Musing: 10 Bothersome Things

Occasionally, in this space, we muse.

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

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

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

Let the musings begin…

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

Surely, she can do better.

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

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

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

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

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

Transitioning now to more esoteric bothersome things….

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

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

Moving on.

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

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

Also…

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

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

Liberals. Just kidding! Not going there.

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

Also, the food wasn’t good.

But the name and branding were trendy!

Negativity. Negativity is the worst, this list notwithstanding.

Perhaps soon we’ll muse about good things.

Perhaps.

 

 

 

Closing Arguments

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

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

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

We stipulated a few points as the discussion progressed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Calkins and I really weren’t far off.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Calkins Contradicts Calkins

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

Geoff Calkins, 5/1/2017

Harsh words.

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

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

Geoff Calkins, 5/3/2016

What a difference a year makes, huh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Um, ok.

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

It boggles the mind.

Again, the latest false attack, from Calkins today:

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

Only?

Only?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memphis has the NCAA probation to prove it.

How do I know Calipari had unfettered control?

Because Geoff Calkins told me so.

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

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

Boom.

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

Again, who better to ask than Geoff Calkins himself?

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

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

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

Got it.

No difference.

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

It’s absurd.

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

Surely, this effects recruiting budgets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can’t.

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

 

Zero Sum Game

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

Is Memphis now a football school?

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

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

Unfortunately, the evidence strongly suggests that’s unrealistic.

First, let’s define sustained success.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider the following:

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

The list goes on.

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

Most, for obvious reasons, choose football.

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

In the meantime, however, basketball clearly suffers.

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

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

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

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

San Diego State.

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

San Diego State?!?!

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

Not San Diego State for crying out loud.

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a 95% mark.

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

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

The Immediate and Long Term Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Gary Parrish is Barely a Journalist

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

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

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

But never mind all that.

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

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

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

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

Social media interns look for clicks.

Sales and PR professionals look for clicks.

Porn producers look for clicks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fake News: Gary Parrish Edition

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

We should all be on the lookout for fake news. 

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

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

I don’t know the answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Period.

Tubby may take it from bad to worse. 

Again, I’m not here to argue otherwise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The contradiction?

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

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

Guess what?

There was also a 3rd quote!

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

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

Smith’s answer:

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

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

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

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

But I’ve wandered from the point.

The point is this:

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

Clearly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But again, I’m slightly off the point.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything You Believe About Tiger Basketball Is a Lie

There’s a central idea concerning Memphis basketball.

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

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

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

Boom.

There it is.

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

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

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

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

It’s eloquent.

It’s distinctive.

There’s only one problem.

It’s a myth.

It isn’t true.

It’s a lie.

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

None.

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

1973? 

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

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

1983-1985?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Larry Finch era?

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

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

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

One.

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

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

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

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

The Calipari Era?

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

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

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

The Josh Pastner era?

Nope.

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

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

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

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

TWO!

All of the above players left Memphis after disappointing careers.

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

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

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

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

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

 

About Those Memphis Kids…

Let’s connect a few dots here.

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

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

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

Maybe the problem isn’t the coach.

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

Maybe?

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

Maybe it’s time for this dream to die.

The dream took root in 1973 and flowered in 1985.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts on Memphis Big XII Snub (??)

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

(*At least 1 or 2).

Here are a few thoughts:

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

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

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

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

Debate Regarding Lawsons Lacks Nuance

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

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

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

Spare me either of these takes, please.

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

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

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

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

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

I guess not.

And then the Lawsons went public with their discontent.

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

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

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

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

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

Nuance.

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