Well, I certainly didn’t plan on writing two posts this week about former Gophers men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith, nor did I figure on writing the headline you see above.
But CBSSports is reporting that Smith could be fired after just two years as the Memphis head coach and replaced by Penny Hardaway — the former NBA star who is legendary in Memphis after starring at his hometown school in the early 1990s.
It’s a little stunning considering Smith’s teams at Memphis haven’t been awful. They were 19-13 last season and they’re 19-12 heading into the conference tournament this year. And here’s the real whopper: Smith’s buyout is $9.75 million. Ouch.
But per the report: “The administration has determined that keeping Smith might cost more in multiple ways, a source told CBS Sports. Four years ago under Josh Pastner, Memphis averaged an announced attendance of more than 16,000 for games at FedExForum. This season under Smith, that number has dipped to around 6,000 — which is the lowest in nearly 50 years.”
Apathy was part of the reason Smith was dumped as Gophers coach after six seasons. His buyout here was $2.5 million — roughly one-fourth of what it is at Memphis.
Hardaway runs an AAU program in Memphis that has several top nationally recruited juniors currently playing for it. There is a belief that Hardaway could deliver those recruits to Memphis as the head coach, while Smith — whose recruiting there has been lackluster — cannot.
All of this comes just a couple days after Smith went on a rant about loyalty. It was aimed at college players transferring — something that has been an issue during his tenure at Memphis — but maybe there was a hidden message about his own job security?
If Smith is fired, and Memphis fails to make the NCAA tourney (realistically the school needs to win its conference tourney to get in), it would mark the first time in his career his final year at a school didn’t include a tourney berth. He previously coached at Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota and Texas Tech.