Memphis hires Tubby Smith to replace Pastner

When Tubby Smith takes Memphis to the NCAA Tournament, he'll become the first coach in NCAA history to take six different schools dancing.

When Tubby Smith takes Memphis to the NCAA Tournament, he’ll become the first coach in NCAA history to take six different schools dancing.

Published on Thursday, 4/14/16, at 9:03 a.m. Eastern.

According to a report from Gary Parrish of CBS Sports, Memphis has hired 64-year-old Tubby Smith to replace Josh Pastner as its next head coach.

Smith visited Memphis on Wednesday before heading back to Lubbock last night. According to multiple reports, Texas Tech made every effort to retain Smith but after sleeping on it, he couldn’t pass up the chance to take over the storied program that fell on hard times in the last few years of Pastner’s seven-year tenure.

Smith and Lon Kruger are the only coaches to take five different schools to the NCAA Tournament. After inheriting the messy leftovers of Billy Gillispie’s debacle of a tenure at Texas Tech, Smith took the Red Raiders to the NCAA Tournament in his third season. He was previously fired at Minnesota after taking the Gophers to the Round of 32 in the 2013 NCAA Tournament before they lost to Florida.

Smith won the national championship in his first season at Kentucky in 1998, but he was never able to get UK back to the Final Four during a 10-year tenure. The Big Blue Nation had soured on Smith towards the end of his stay because of his recruiting failures and inability to get back to the national semifinals (the ‘Cats lost in the Elite Eight three times and twice in the Sweet 16 on his watch). However, nobody has ever questioned Smith’s coaching acumen.

Smith has taken 18 of his 25 teams to the NCAA Tournament, including 14 straight stretching from his last two years at Tulsa until the end of his stay in Lexington. After taking Tulsa to back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances, Smith bolted for Athens to take the Georgia job.

Smith took UGA to the Sweet 16 in 1996 before losing at the buzzer in overtime to Syracuse in one of the greatest Sweet 16 games in NCAA Tournament history. With the ‘Cuse trailing by two with 2.4 seconds remaining, it had the ball at halfcourt. A cross-court pass was nearly stolen by the Bulldogs, but Jason Cipolla made the catch and hit a baseline jumper to force the extra session. A 3-pointer by UGA put it in front by one with 7.1 seconds left in OT, but John Wallace answered with an 18-foot leaner with 2.8 seconds left to lift the Orangemen (their mascot at the time) to victory. Wallace would take the ‘Cuse all the way to the finals before losing to Kentucky.

How many times has Georgia been to the Sweet 16 since Tubby left for Kentucky? Not once.

My guess is that Memphis never made a serious run at Wichita St.’s Gregg Marshall because it knew the money was going to be too much to land him. I believe the Tigers gauged the interest of Va. Tech’s Buzz Williams, only to realize that route was going to be extremely expensive as well. That left the school to decide between pursuing Smith or taking a chance on a younger and less experienced coach. Memphis legend Penny Hardaway was believed to be in the mix.

If Smith has his way, Hardaway will join his staff and be a recruiting force. Hardaway was raised in Memphis and is one of the best players in school history. The city is loaded with local talent and when the program has enjoyed its best days, it has kept those players at home.

Smith is known to loath the AAU scene (and who the hell can blame him?!), but the reality of college basketball is that the elite programs have to be involved in that cesspool. Therefore, Smith must assemble a staff of young assistants that are willing to do the dirty work within that scene.

When Pastner left for Ga. Tech last week, Memphis fans rejoiced. He wasn’t going to be fired because of his massive buyout.

Marshall’s name instantly came up as it always does when Top-20 programs have a vacancy. The timing seemed right since Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet just ran out of eligibility, but it’s becoming abundantly clear that Marshall isn’t going anywhere unless a very special situation and greenbacks galore come along.

He would’ve been a grand-slam hire. Williams would’ve been a home-run blast.

Tubby? He’s a solid hire. If he can put together a great staff, this can certainly work. In fact, it might work out great.

As for Texas Tech, the reason I thought Tubby was a such a great score for it is because I wasn’t sure he’d get another shot at a big-time gig due to his age. With the exception of TCU, Texas Tech is the toughest job in the Big 12. The Red Raiders shouldn’t hire an up-and-coming coach because if he has success, he’ll bolt for a better job. It was just bad luck that this opportunity came along for Smith. On that note, Texas Tech should go get a proven winner that can look at Lubbock as his last stop. That guy should be Colorado St.’s Larry Eustachy.

While Memphis fans probably aren’t dancing in the streets this morning, they have a likely Hall of Fame coach who has cut the nets down on a Monday night in early April before. His name isn’t Josh Pastner, either, and this new situation is one every Memphis fan would’ve taken in a heartbeat before Ga. Tech did the city a huge favor.

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