Memphis athletic director blindsides Josh Pastner by moving toward continuing Tennessee series

If Memphis coach Josh Pastner was ever going to break his policies against drinking or cursing, Thursday would probably be the day.

Anyone else probably would have drowned their sorrows in a stiff drink or let the four-letter bombs fly if they were blindsided by their boss the way Pastner was.

On Wednesday afternoon, two days before this season's rivalry game between Memphis and Tennessee, Pastner adamantly reiterated his stance that he didn't intend to play the Vols again after this season. For the umpteenth time, he noted that letting Tennessee play in Memphis every two years boosts the Vols' recruiting in that talent-rich city and makes it harder for the Tigers to keep local prospects at home.

"(Athletic director) Tom Bowen (and I), we both see eye to eye on this," Pastner told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "When we're done with them (this year), it's over."

Imagine Pastner's surprise then to find out Thursday that he and Bowen apparently are not in agreement. Not only did Bowen put out a statement indicating he and Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart are discussing continuing the basketball series between the two programs, he went so far as to add that playing the Vols each year is "important."

The second Bowen released that statement, he succeeded in tabling the issue of whether or not Memphis should play Tennessee for the time being. What's now being debated in Memphis is why Bowen would publicly undercut Pastner on a scheduling issue that is traditionally the domain of the head coach and not a first-year athletic director.

Whether or not you agree with Pastner's caution about playing Tennessee or you think he comes across as scared of getting beat, he is being wronged here.

Bowen could have backed his coach or spoken to him privately about his desire to play Tennessee and at least enabled Pastner to backtrack on his stance on his own. Instead Bowen failed to communicate, blindsiding Pastner with a statement to the media, one released less than 24 hours after Pastner's comments to the contrary no less.

What's more, this isn't the first time this issue has popped up even though Bowen only left San Jose State for Memphis less than a year ago. In July, Bowen said Memphis will play Ole Miss in future basketball series despite Pastner's longstanding policy against playing regional rivals.

At the time, Pastner backed his boss, telling the Commercial Appeal, "I'm a believer in chain of command, and what he says goes." Pastner did the same Thursday regarding the Tennessee series during a radio interview with Gary Parrish on 92.9 FM, softening his stance against playing the Vols and taking the high road when asked about Bowen.

"I back Tom Bowen 100 percent, I think he's a tremendous athletic director and I hope he's my boss for as long as he wants me here," Pastner said.

Credit Pastner for his classy public response, but it would be hard to believe he's not privately seething.

A head coach deserves the right to formulate his own schedule because it's his job on the line if his team doesn't satisfy fan expectations. If Memphis' athletic director is going to insist on scheduling games without Pastner's knowledge or approval, nobody would blame Pastner if he starts putting out feelers about other jobs where that won't be an issue.

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