For years, Memphis fans have complained that Josh Pastner's teams took quick, ill-advised shots, played disorganized defense and typically didn't win at the level their talent level suggested they should.
That should no longer be a problem given who the school tabbed as Pastner's replacement on Thursday morning.
Memphis has hired Texas Tech's Tubby Smith, an accomplished coach who's basically the complete opposite of his youthful predecessor. He's 64 years old, he hasn't always recruited at an elite level but he is well respected among his peers for being excellent tactically and strong in player development.
Smith won't be universally embraced right away by Memphis fans who convinced themselves they had a chance to nab a flashier candidate. School officials decided quickly that they could not afford Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall or Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams, that they could not pry Archie Miller away from Dayton and that they sought someone with more coaching experience than beloved alum Penny Hardaway.
But while Smith isn't as splashy a choice as those coaches would have been, he's still a solid second-tier hire. This is a coach who won a national championship at Kentucky, who led Minnesota to three NCAA bids in six seasons and who rebuilt Texas Tech into an NCAA tournament team in a mere three years. If Smith takes Memphis to the NCAA tournament, he would be the only Division I coach ever to accomplish that at six different schools.
One concern some have about Smith is his age, but that's overblown in a sport in which coaches in their late 60s and early 70s routinely make the Final Four or win national championships. At 64 and seemingly in good health, Smith could potentially coach at Memphis longer than the seven years Pastner lasted.
Another concern some have about Smith is that his career is in a state of decline, but that's hardly fair either. While Smith did get fired at Minnesota in 2013, the context there matters. The athletic director that canned him was the man who hired Shaka Smart at VCU and the founder of a program designed to introduce young assistant coaches to athletic directors who may later be in the market to hire a head coach. Norwood Teague wanted the chance to duplicate the Smart hire at Minnesota, which is why he handed that job to 30-year-old Richard Pitino.
What's more, Smith has proven himself quickly at Texas Tech. Not only did he take the Red Raiders to their first NCAA tournament bid in nine years last month, enough of those players were returning that Texas Tech was also poised to remain on an upward trajectory the next two seasons had Smith not bolted for a better job.
The one concern about Smith that's valid is whether he can recruit to the level at which Memphis has become accustomed.
Smith's inability to land Kentucky-caliber recruits is what ultimately cost him his job with the Wildcats a decade ago. He hasn't waded back into the cesspool that is elite recruiting very often since then, though part of that is certainly the difficulty in luring top 50 prospects to off-the-radar programs like Minnesota and Texas Tech.
At Memphis, it's different. Your city is a recruiting hotbed, and you have to retain a high percentage of top local prospects in order to succeed. For all his faults, that was the one thing Pastner did exceptionally well. Many of the eight Rivals top 50 prospects Pastner signed in his first four recruiting classes hailed from Memphis.
For Smith to achieve anywhere near the same recruiting success, he'll have to hire a staff familiar with the recruiting landscape in Memphis and capable of helping him mine the city for talent. Hardaway would be an ideal choice given his ties to the Team Penny AAU program and his stature locally, however, it's unclear whether he'd be willing to return to his alma mater as an assistant rather than the head coach.
So yes, hiring a strong staff will be crucial to Smith. And no, he's not a surefire home run hire like Marshall would have been. But before Georgia Tech came out of nowhere to hire Pastner last week, Memphis was looking at another year with a lame-duck coach it no longer wanted but couldn't afford to fire.
By comparison, year one of the Tubby Smith era is a massive improvement over that.
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